MORE than six months on from sustaining a devastating knee injury at Spurs, the belief of Simon Francis is now quite simple: “I can get back to my best.”

But the Cherries skipper revealed how he had initially been left fearing for his future at the Dorset club after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against the Champions’ League finalists on Boxing Day.

Francis has been pictured continuing his rehabilitation away from the main group in pre-season training this week.

The club captain admitted the mental anguish of first receiving the news about his injury had been tougher than anything physical he had faced so far.

“The thing which surprised me most was the mental side of getting my head round it,” he told the Daily Echo.

“I remember being told I had ruptured my ACL, thinking about my age and thinking ‘potentially I might not recover from this. Will this be the last game I play for Bournemouth?’.

“Those are the initial thoughts which come into your head. Now, I can’t believe I even thought like that because I feel so good and fit and feel I can get back to my best.

“But those are the mental problems you have to deal with and that is the biggest thing to overcome, rather than the physical side of things.

“Once you realise you can get back to full fitness and your knee will be stronger than before, that’s the hardest part out of the way and the physical thing takes care of itself.

“You have to be in the right frame of mind and it certainly took a few weeks for me to get into that.

“I was sat at home. I’d had the operation and I couldn’t get out of bed or walk anywhere, that’s when you really start thinking ‘this is going to be hard’. But you take it step by step and there’s little goals you reach. When I first rode a bike again that was a massive step and a huge relief.

“There was my first run outside and when I first kicked a ball again – there’s loads of boxes you tick off to get close to returning.”

Francis is currently fourth on the all-time list of Premier League appearance makers for Eddie Howe’s men – featuring 121 times at England’s top level.

And with his recovery process well on track, the club captain is looking to add to his tally just a month into next season.

“I have been hoping all along from when I got the injury nine months would be September time, so I am still aiming for that. It’s looking good at the moment,” said the Nottingham-born star.

“I am hoping to be back involved in (full) training in August and then looking to play some games in September.

“It’s still a long process. The way I have been thinking recently is that I feel great, I feel fit and the knee feels excellent every time I am training out there. But I don’t think you know how far or close you are to returning to playing in a game until you actually fully join in training. That will be the biggest test and the next step.

“You can do all the fitness work and ball work on your own but until you actually join in with 15 or 20 of the lads in a session, that’s how you know how close you are.

“While I look forward to that, I have to make sure I’m ready because I don’t want to come back too early and rush things.”

Cherries are next week set to head off to La Manga for a pre-season training camp in preparation for their top-flight curtain raiser against promoted Sheffield United on Saturday, August 10.

And although the likes of Francis and Lewis Cook are set to miss the opening day of the campaign, they will still step out on Spanish soil with the rest of the squad.

Francis said: “At the end of the season, we had a meeting and he (Howe) said he would love to have me and Lewis and some of the other lads there.

“That makes a big difference – especially with the team bonding events we will be doing and just being in and around the group. We definitely want to be there.”