Ledley King has revealed he thought he could continue to manage his knee problem until his surgeon explained the severity of his condition.
The Tottenham defender was forced to retire earlier this month after finally succumbing to the long-term injury to his left knee.
But the 31-year-old admits he was devastated to have to call time on his career as he had no intention of retiring this season.
"At the start of last season I felt my left knee was the same as it had been in the last five years and that I could keep going. I didn't envisage finishing," King told The Sun.
"Then, even though I knew I was struggling halfway through the season, my aim was to get to May, deal with it in the summer and come back again.
"But the surgeon said he didn't want me to end up with a knee replacement at a young age and that was what would happen if I played on. My knee felt terrible so I suppose it made the decision easy.
"But I admit there were a few tears because I always felt I could deal with it before. I'd always found a way to manage the situation and get through the season."
King's knee injury has entered football folklore after more than a decade of dealing with the problem.
The England international has been unable to train fully for years and, incredibly, his difficulties stem from an injury sustained on his full debut against Derby County in October 1999.
"It's amazing that I played as long as I did really when I think back to that game at Pride Park," added King.
"It was my first start for Spurs, I was playing in midfield and after about 30 seconds I was clattered by Rory Delap.
"I just about managed to complete the game but I needed an operation on my left knee afterwards which kept me out for six weeks. I've been having operations on that knee ever since.
"You could say that was the start of the end and it was four days after my 19th birthday.
"I quickly grasped that I was never going to be as good as I wanted to be but I still felt I could be very good.
"It was probably most frustrating for the first year or so but it could have all been over after that first game so I came to accept how things were.
"There is a lot of disappointment though because I know it could have been different."