Stewart Downing has revealed Aston Villa team-mate Stiliyan Petrov still feels sorry for the challenge he feared could have ended the winger's career at the end of last season.
Petrov broke Downing's foot with a full-blooded tackle in what proved to be the England international's final game for Middlesbrough, and was wracked with guilt right throughout the close season.
Martin O'Neill took a gamble by paying £12million to acquire the injured Downing's services in July and has been repaid by a string of solid performances since his return to full fitness in November.
The two players have since become close friends and Downing is fully aware of the effect that incident had on Petrov.
Downing told the Daily Star: "The lads have ribbed him over it but there was no problem between us even when it happened.
"Stiliyan rang me not long after the game because he was worried I might not play again.
"I really appreciated that. I think he was more pleased than anyone when I was fit again."
World Cup ambition
Downing is still harbouring hopes of breaking back into the England squad before next summer's World Cup and has been delighted with his return to form after such a lengthy lay-off.
"It has been frustrating, but I'm through it now," he added. "It is a nice feeling to be playing again, and with the team doing so well, it was quite easy to slot in.
"Since then it has gone well for me. I couldn't have had a better start than scoring on my full debut against Portsmouth in the Carling Cup and now we have that final to look forward to.
"I have been off the international scene since the back end of last season and I'm desperate to be involved.
"All I can do is try to keep playing well for Villa and hope I get picked."