"My wife was at home and she was asking the doctors, ‘is he going to be okay?’ He couldn’t actually give her the answer that I was going to be alright because a high percentage of people who have what I had don’t actually make it."
Connor Roberts' journey to the World Cup has been far from conventional. While acting as a key cog in Wales' qualification for the tournament, the defender endured a torrid festive period almost 12 months ago as he was struck down by a serious bout of pneumonia.
Roberts was admitted to hospital and thankfully went on to make a full recovery, although he fostered huge concerns over whether he would be able to maintain his notoriously high energy levels when he returned to the game — or, rather, if he returned.
"I did worry about it because it affects the lungs and I had to have numerous scans," explained the Wales star. "I was told from the people who read those scans that what I had was severe. It wasn’t a small thing.
"Everyone knows that I like to get up and down when I play, and run all day, so my lungs are obviously a massive part of the ability to do that. I was a little bit worried.
"But when I came back for Burnley at the back end of last season, I felt sound. We have since qualified for a World Cup, so I can’t be doing that badly. Whenever I am wearing the Wales jersey, I feel I can run all day. I will just keep on going and going. I’m looking forward to it. It could be 100 degrees and it wouldn’t bother me."
Indeed, Roberts went on to play a pivotal role for the Clarets in the latter stages of his first season at Turf Moor while he was a key figure in Wales' 2022 World Cup qualification campaign.
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Off the pitch, the defender married childhood sweetheart Georgina just weeks after Rob Page's men secured victory over Ukraine in the play-off final, and he is also a proud father to daughter Elsie.
That brutal ordeal over Christmas produced one remarkable benefit for the 27-year-old: perspective. Suddenly, having fought for his life in hospital, Roberts now simply feels blessed to even be with his family, let alone to be on the brink of representing his country on the biggest stage of them all.
"I had pneumonia and I was in hospital for a few days," he explained. "I was really, really struggling. So, the fact that I am still playing, and can still do what I do, is a good thing. My life has changed a lot – I’ve got a baby daughter now, so I play football when I get the chance and when I play I try and do my best. But if I’m useless, who cares? When I go home and see her, no-one can take that away from me.
"In years gone by, when I was at Swansea, and then a few games for Wales where I didn’t play as well as I know I can, I wanted to go home and beat myself up about it. I would say to family and friends 'I’m useless. I’m done with football'. But now, I have a different perspective. If I don’t play well, I go home and she’s smiling, nothing else matters."
Roberts will be surrounded by familiar faces both on and off the pitch in Qatar. The Crynant product will be backed by two of his closest pals against the likes of the USA, Iran and England.
"Two of my mates are going," he said. "They’ve chucked all their life savings into getting out there, but they want to see their mate play for their country on the biggest stage at a World Cup. It’s going to be brilliant for them, as well as for myself. I’ve got other friends who are not going.
"Our valley is not renowned for creating footballers. But in this squad, we’ve got two and Rubin Colwill, who’s from not far away as well. There will be a lot of eyes from my village and from the valley watching on and cheering for us."
As far as those alongside him on the field, Roberts will be one of seven Swansea City academy graduates involved in the tournament with Wales. Joe Rodon, Daniel James and Ben Cabango all featured for the Swans alongside Roberts, who - like many of his fellow team-mates at his boyhood club - have gone on to the Premier League as a result of their development at SA1.
"To now be going to a World Cup is amazing, with so many players who have come through from Swansea," he said. "To look around and see those boys from nearby who have been on a similar journey and played for the same club, it makes you feel very proud. I got tagged in a tweet by the Swans saying there were seven of us and we’d come a long way. These are proud moments that no-one can ever take away from us. Everyone who is going to this World Cup has played with one or two other players in the squad at club level and we are all mates.
"For me – to be so proud to play for Wales – and to look alongside me and see DJ and Joe Rodon, people who grew up around me, is something amazing. I’m not only proud of myself, but I’m proud of them and what they’re achieving. To be around all my mates and to be on the pitch with them just shows that we all try for each other. If DJ is maybe not having the best of games – which doesn’t happen very often – then Ben [Davies] or others among his mates play that little bit better to carry him along.
"We are all in it together – that’s the famous saying, Together Stronger. But that is what we are trying to achieve. It has got us to the World Cup. But it’s also more of a testament to every one of those individuals in this squad. They have come through from different backgrounds, but all worked incredibly hard to get here."
Unrivalled levels of pride ooze from the right wing-back who is always well equipped with a headline-worthy quote about his undying desire to give his all for the red jersey. But it is his passion and enthusiasm on the pitch which has seen him reach 41 caps for his country, the same tally accumulated by boss Rob Page during his playing career.
"I never thought I would ever play for Swansea," Roberts admitted. "I never thought I’d get one cap for Wales, let alone 41. To represent the country at the Euros, and mange to nick a goal was amazing. Now, to be at the World Cup... I said before the Euros that if Rob Page let me on that pitch for one single minute I’d be happy. It’s the same this time around. I just want to be able to play one single minute, just so that I can say that I played at a World Cup for my country. Hopefully, I can achieve that."
Such are the talents Roberts possesses, the Welshman earned himself the nickname of 'Crynant Cafu' earlier on in his career. Cafu is the most-capped Brazilian men's player of all time while he is the only player to compete in three men's World Cup final matches, two of which he won.
Nevertheless, even those astonishing achievements were paled into insignificance by Roberts who was once again armed with words which typified his genuine adoration for his country: "His [Cafu] record is decent, but he could only dream of being from Wales!"
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