STEVEN FLETCHER will be allowed to return to the fold at his own pace, rather than being rushed back for pre-season training.
Sunderland’s top scorer went under the knife earlier this week to repair the ankle ligaments damaged on international duty for Scotland last month.
The original timescale, after Fletcher suffered the injury in the World Cup qualifying defeat to Wales, was that the 26-year-old would be out for 16 weeks if he required an operation – sidelining the former £12million striker until the end of July.
Sunderland’s medical team will discuss with the specialist over the next fortnight whether that timescale needs to be revised.
But head coach Paolo Di Canio has vowed not to rush Fletcher back into action, even if it means the 26-year-old misses Sunderland’s entire pre-season campaign.
“We need to make sure he comes back at the right time, not too early, not too late,” said Di Canio.
“Obviously, we all hope that, in pre-season, he can start with us again.
“But we don’t want to push him in this sort of situation, otherwise it would put him in trouble.
“He’s still young and he can be a very good footballer for the club for the next few years and we have to make sure he’s OK.
“The specialist who did the surgery and the physio in the next two weeks will check again and give the right timescale.”
While Di Canio is understandably keen to have Fletcher at his disposal, the Sunderland boss admits that he hasn’t spent his first two-and-a-half weeks in the job dwelling on the striker’s condition, with Premier League survival his overriding priority.
“In the future, it will be fantastic to have him available,” added Di Canio.
“But, at the moment, I can’t cry about it, because when I joined I knew I couldn’t use him.
“I was focused on who was available, rather than focusing too much on who was injured.
“My priority at the moment is to save the club.
“In the future, he is an important part of the club and has a big value for the club.
“That’s in terms of money, because the club spent a lot of him, but more so in terms of goals because the 11 goals he scored made many points for the team.
“He’s a crucial player, but, at the moment, we can only monitor the situation and make sure he gets the best treatment to come back stronger than before.”