Chris Coleman says Jack Rodwell has been training away from Sunderland’s senior squad to build up his fitness.
The Black Cats boss has told him to see it as an opportunity, however, and has not ruled out throwing him into first-team action in the near future.
Rodwell has not seen first-team action since September 20, when he played against Everton in a 3-0 Carabao Cup defeat.
He has since played two Checkatrade Trophy games at centre-half for the Under-23s but has struggled with a hamstring problem.
Rodwell has 18 months left on the lucrative deal signed in the summer of 2014.
With Lee Cattermole out for a month with a muscle tear, Coleman is short of midfield options and is keen for Rodwell to get himself into contention for selection.
But the ex-Wales manager nsists he will not force the 26-year-old into action.
He said: “He [Rodwell] has had a hamstring injury. He hasn’t been training with us, but with the medical team.
“It has been a gruelling regime for him. I told him, he can take this two ways, that he has been punted and we are not bothered, or he can say ‘I am going to be as fit as I have ever been, so if my chance comes I will take it’.
“That’s down to Jack. It’s his responsibility. It’s not mine to make someone say I am ready to play. It’s self-motivation and it’s as simple as that.
“I have to get results. It doesn’t matter if I like a player or not. Whoever is ready, whoever wants it, then let’s go.
“A manager is on dodgy ground if a player says he is unfit and a manager says ‘you are fit’, I have never done that. I don’t know a manager who has done that. That’s not my responsibility, it’s his.”
Coleman said it was up to Rodwell to prove had the appetite for the Championship relegation battle.
“You will have to ask Jack if he has the appetite,” he said.
“He is 26, and building wise it is all there. I am sure Simon (Grayson) sat here and said that – they all did right back to Gus (Poyet). It’s up to him to say ‘there’s a challenge there and I will have it’.”
“What happens to Jack will be up to Jack and what he wants to do. What we do know is that Jack needs to be playing football.
“I won’t be the only manager to have said that. Jack is working his socks off at the minute with our medical team and our physios and fitness guys.
“They are working him hard. We can’t afford any stragglers, we can’t carry anyone.
“We need players here with an appetite who want to play football. Ability wise, it is never in question with Jack. He has to play more football. I don’t care how he does it. he just needs to be on the pitch more. That will be up to Jack.
“He might have to play. I might need to say ‘come on Jack, come on, here’s your chance.
Coleman also admitted that he may have to move away from the 5-3-2 formation that has served Sunderland so well in recent weeks due to injury problems in the squad.
The rise of Joel Asoro and Josh Maja gives him plenty of attacking options, but he has far fewer options to work with in central midfield and central defence. Marc Wilson moved into midfield during Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Birmingham City and that could be repeated at Bramall Lane this afternoon.
Coleman said: “That formation has served us quite well. Really it is about getting on the pitch, doing things well but it has served us well.
“We might not be able to play the same on Boxing Day because Gibson has a problem, McNair will not be ready, Cattermole is injured, so that leaves us with Didier Ndong. Is he ready for 90 minutes? Probably not.
“That would leave us with Marc Wilson, which would leave us without a third centre-half, so it could all have an impact. We will wait and see.”