In an interview with English publication ‘The Guardian’, the 22-year-old explained how a word in the ear from Atletico Madrid assistant manager German Burgos finally got his to put his health ahead of his career.
The Atletico Madrid midfielder suffered a damaged kidney on his Champions League debut against Bayer Levekusen in 2015 in a clash with Kyriakos Papadopoulos.
The damage was serious, with Ateltico’s club president saying that his kidney was ‘destroyed’, but Saul is no quitter.
The youngster returned to action wearing an internal catheter, but that was far from ideal.
“The catheter gives you functionality but it was sore, you’d feel it running, and I was urinating blood. Maybe some would say: ‘That’s it,’ but no [not me],” Saul explained. “The problem was when we took it out, my kidney didn’t work properly. I was given options: play for a month, stop for a month … I said: ‘No, no, that’s no good. Put the catheter back in, I can function.’ But they said: ‘Saúl, it’s not that simple.’”
Ñiguez was growing more and more frustrated, to the point that he considered simply having his kidney removed.
“I was tired of it all and I said: ‘Doc, just take the kidney out. Take it out. I’ll be out for a month, but then I’ll be back again,” he recalled. “The doctor was saying: ‘I’m not taking your kidney out;’ ‘Try this;’ ‘Try that.’ I said: ‘Yeah, I’ll try things but if they don’t work, then what? More of the same? No. I just want to get back to playing well, feeling well. Forget it all. Be normal. Play football. I can’t be worrying about getting a knock. I just want to play. Take it out.’
Step forward Burgos. The man known as ‘El Mono’ sat Saul down and told him what he had been through back in 2003 when, after being diagnosed with cancer one Thursday afternoon, he turned to the doctor and asked if the operation to remove the tumor could wait as he had a match on the Sunday.
“Mono Burgos was so important,” admitted Saul. “He came to me: ‘The doctor says you’re talking about taking out your kidney. You’re 22! What are you talking about? Use your head.’ I was just thinking about football: take this out and play. I thought: lose a kidney, it’s fine, I’ve got another one. But Mono told me what he went through, he looked me in the eye: ‘Saúl, think about your life.’ I saw. The seriousness, the future. What if you get a problem with the other one? There’s no way out. And we put the catheter back in.”
Saul no longer needs the catheter and he is back on the path to living up to all his early potential, in his words: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”