Kieron Dyer has returned to the North-East with Middlesbrough, but since leaving Newcastle United in 2007 a series of injuries have brought his career to a standstill. Deputy Sports Editor Craig Stoddart spoke to the former England midfielder who wants to kick-start his career, not finish it
It's impossible to think of Kieron Dyer without the notion of him being injured coming to the fore.
Like Paul Scholes not being able to tackle, Arsenal no longer winning trophies or David Moyes doing 'a great job with what he's had to work with', Dyer's injury-prone status has become one of the game's cliches.
Even prior to the past six years, in which he has played only 40 games combined for West Ham and QPR, as well as a loan at Ipswich, Dyer was known for being regularly missing from action.
He doesn't deny that he's become known as a crock. He'll also concede that earlier in his career he occasionally made the headlines for various social activities. "We were called the Brat Pack", he admits, with reference to a time when he played for Newcastle United and took full advantage of living in the city centre.
How much do you know, though, about Kieron Dyer the big-hearted local hero who is helping to produce the next generation of footballers? Not that he wants you to know about it.
In Suffolk, where the 34-year-old is from, Dyer is something of a footballing philanthropist, bankrolling the academy at Ipswich Town.
Prior to his Middlesbrough debut last Saturday, which, by coincidence, was at Ipswich's Portman Road, Dyer's benevolent spirit was discovered.
"I've done it for a number of years. I sponsor the academy, the under-15s team," he said.
"They've got a Spanish kid from the Barcelona academy training with them and I've just paid for the under-13s team to go over there and play Barcelona at their training ground.
"It's good to give back. Ipswich gave me a chance and I'm very fortunate that I've made decent money in the game and I'd like to see players coming through at Ipswich and doing well.
"It's not as if I'm a good Samaritan, loads of footballers do a lot of charity work, but don't want the limelight because that's not the reason they're doing it.
"A lot of players do things like that. It's not just me, but people don't know about it. I didn't even want this in the press but it became common knowledge the other day in one of the papers."
It's admirable that Dyer wishes to put something back into the club that launched his career in 1996. There are plenty who would say he has been paid enough money despite not always being fit for purpose.
Perhaps a harsh verdict, but one that he does little to refute, and neither does he disagree that his is a career unfulfilled.
An England squad regular during the early part of his career and winner of 33 caps - including three at the 2002 World Cup - but type "Kieron Dyer" into Google and the first search suggestion is "injury".
"It doesn't really bother me because it's warranted. In the past five years I've not played enough games," he admits. "Yeah, of course it's unfulfilled. Jonathan Woodgate's career has mirrored mine. We were in the England team together, we were both at Newcastle, but injuries have hampered us.
"But I wouldn't say we've wasted our careers because we haven't chosen to be injured. During our peak years, we didn't get to play football, which is a bit of a shame. That's life and it happens in football.
"It's not as though we've gone half-hearted through our rehab. We've really gone at it and done everything that's asked of us to get fit. We haven't wasted our careers, but injuries happen in football.
"There are other examples. People probably think of Michael Owen being injury-prone, but 99 per cent of Premier League players would like to have had a career like his.
"It doesn't worry me what people say. They're entitled to their opinion."
That Dyer, at 34, is still putting his boots on says something for his determination to keep going when others would have thrown in the towel.
After bringing him to Boro last week, manager Tony Mowbray said: "Kieron could have finished his career if he wanted to. He won't be short of a bob or two. He is here because he wants to come."
But Dyer admits: "When I was getting constant hamstring problems, it did cross my mind to retire because it seemed like there was no end to it. But I never once wanted to quit when I broke my leg or had my bad foot injury because they're freak injuries.
"What's got me down is continually having muscle injuries, but I seem to have found a programme that is working for me."
The fitness programme will be monitored as Boro attempt to use Dyer as much as possible over the last 17 games, starting today at home to Barnsley, as they aim for a Premier League return.
The top division is where Dyer has spent the bulk of his career, though he has not seen much action since leaving St James' in August 2007.
He signed for West Ham in a £6m move, but days later was ruled out for the season following a tackle in a League Cup match at Bristol Rovers.
"He kicked out at me and I had a double break of my leg," he says. "I've not watched it back on TV. I remember it. I pushed off him and he didn't try to break my leg, but he tried to trip me and my foot was planted in the ground and...
"What made it worse was that I'd been offered the chance not to play. The manager (Alan Curbishley) came up to me at 5 o'clock and said 'you don't have to play if you don't want to', but I wanted to."
A fresh start followed in August 2011, but rotten luck struck again and his QPR debut lasted just three minutes. This time it was a broken foot that sidelined him for the season.
Asked if he regrets leaving Newcastle, Dyer doesn't give a firm response, but he concedes that his St James' days were his best in football.
He said: "Newcastle was the most successful period of my career, which is quite ironic because I left on bad terms. I wanted to leave. I'd had eight or nine years and wanted to go back home. I remember playing a few pre-season games - I think we played Juventus at St James' Park - and I was getting booed, but I haven't got a bad word to say about Newcastle fans and I loved the place.
"They had a successful season last year, but they've not had the success we had when we finished third and fourth and were in the Champions League. They were happy times.
"The best season we had was when we came third, Jermaine Jenas won young player of the year, Alan Shearer won player of the century in the Premier League, I got in the Premiership team of the year, Bobby Robson won a special merit award. That was a great season."
Not so great, though, was the 3-0 home defeat to Aston Villa in April 2005, more commonly known for being the day Dyer and Lee Bowyer traded blows and were both red-carded.
"We're still friends now and we were friends straight after the match too, but I am telling you that wasn't my fault!
"We were having an argument on the pitch and next thing I know he's coming at me like a mad man throwing punches!
"In the changing room afterwards the manager came in and was calling us every name under the sun.
"Me and Bow both got suspended for three games and missed the Man United FA Cup semi-final, which we ended up losing 3-1, that was when it hit home. I'd tried to get the ban overturned but the FA were having none of it."
The manager was Graeme Souness, while on Tyneside Dyer was also managed by Ruud Gullit, who had paid Ipswich £6m for the then 20-year-old, Glenn Roeder and Sam Allardyce.
He played during Sir Bobby Robson's tenure too. "He called me Kevin," says Dyer. "But sometimes I think he did it on purpose so that everyone would have a good laugh and raise spirits. He was very clever.
"I was saying to the manager here, in today's football you have large squads and players get peed off when they're not playing, but Bobby could have a squad of 25 and make everyone feel special. So if they weren't even on the bench, they would still love him. He was just a brilliant man-manager."
Robson is another with strong Ipswich connections, as is Boro's manager Tony Mowbray and assistant Mark Venus. They were veteran team-mates of Dyer's in the mid-1990s when he was still a skinny teenager. "I played in the same team as them, that's how old I am, unfortunately!"
Fast forward 18 years and at 34, injury-prone or not, the clock is ticking. Bearing in mind he has previously, albeit fleetingly, considered retiring, he must have plans for when he does hang up his boots?
"Not yet. Not really. When I left QPR I had two or three weeks of doing nothing, it was a bit of a shock. You'd think you'd love the free time but you don't know what to do with yourself.
"But that's not why I'm still playing. I'm still playing because I still think I can do a job. The day I know I can't is the day I'll pack in, simple as that, but right now I can still play."