David Villa clutched his leg and screamed in pain on the Yokohama turf. He knew the injury was serious, a broken and protruding shin bone the all-too stark evidence.
He went to Japan hoping to help Barcelona secure the Club World Cup, the only major honour in football he had not won. He returned a disconsolate soul, without his teammates, on a lonely flight to Europe hours after breaking his leg.
Villa hopes that he will be back for a possible Champions League final and the European championships in June.
One cannot deny him hope, nor knock his positivity, but to go from breaking a leg in December to playing in some of the most important games in football less than six months later is a tall order.
Villa's football career had been like a dream. A star for Sporting Gijon, the local club he supported as a boy, he moved to successively bigger clubs, starring for Real Zaragoza and then Valencia before his €40 million (Dh188m) move to Barcelona in 2010.
A World Cup winner and European championship winner with Spain, he is already his country's all-time top scorer. That success has continued with Barcelona, but he will remember 2011 as much for frustration and injury as the five trophies won by Barca.
Villa has been having a tough time. His once-close relationship with Lionel Messi has cooled and he would hardly describe Pep Guardiola as his best friend. Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will appreciate exactly where he is coming from, feeling second-best to anything Messi does at Barcelona.
Villa did not expect to be the main man at Camp Nou, but he anticipated more than what he is getting. More starts, more influence, more love. It is not a big problem, but those close to him were saying that they would not be surprised if Villa, who turned 30 this month, moved to England at the end of the season.
That won't happen now and Villa will not look back at 2011/12 with happy memories.
He has started just eight of Barca's league games, to Messi's 15, and been on the bench seven times. His return of five goals is disappointing by his high standards, too, though he has often played out of position on the wing.
His future has been put on hold, but do not automatically assume it will resume at Barcelona.