Twelve months ago, Seb Larsson was en route to winning Sunderland’s Player of the Season accolade as a key cog in the side which secured Premier League survival.
Other than an enforced two-game absence due to suspension, Larsson was an ever-present in Sunderland’s central midfield and his acclimatisation there after arriving at the Stadium of Light as a right winger saw him rightly recognised by supporters.
But while last year was a personal success story for the Swedish international, the current campaign has provided a stark contrast.
Larsson has been limited to just five starts; dropped by Dick Advocaat in the opening exchanges and then sidelined for three months over the winter with knee ligament damage.
While the 30-year-old has now returned to full fitness, he wasn’t even on the bench for the Tyne-Wear derby after fellow Swede Ola Toivonen was preferred among the substitutes.
The last straw of a miserable campaign would be for Larsson’s lack of competitive action to cost him a place in the Sweden squad for the summer’s European Championships.
It would be something of a surprise, given Larsson was a half-time substitute in friendlies against Turkey and the Czech Republic during the international break, plus boasts a wealth of experience as Sunderland’s most capped player after taking his tally of appearances for his country to 76.
But while Larsson is eager to regain his place in the Sunderland line-up, his limited action this season saw him questioned in his homeland about whether he fears for his place in the squad.
“No, it’s not something I’ve thought about to be honest,” replied Larsson in typical grounded fashion.
“I have always known that the Euros were not in danger because of the injury and that I would come back in time.
“I’m doing everything to get back to the form which will get me into the starting XI.”
Larsson believes that his lack of game-time over recent weeks may actually prove to be beneficial for Sunderland during the run-in, rather than a negative issue.
The ex-Arsenal man is both mentally and physically fresh after an extended lay-off, rather than being jaded from the constant tension of the relegation battle.
He added: “It feels like the season starts now and I feel fresh.
“When you’re in this situation normally, it starts to affect the body, and in a different way, mentally as well. It’s tough to have 100 per cent energy when you go into the matches.
“But I feel the opposite. It feels as if I have plenty of energy.
“I’ve got seven or eight weeks before the season finishes and I can go to the Euros feeling fresh.”
Larsson is one of two Sunderland players who look destined to go to the Euro’s, alongside Black Cats skipper John O’Shea, while Toivonen will hope for a recall to the Sweden squad.
Emanuele Giaccherini and Adam Matthews – currently out on loan at Bologna and Bristol City respectively – are also in contention to represent their countries.