Lee Johnson gives encouraging Arbenit Xhemajli update and explains why he has big hopes for the Sunderland defender
Lee Johnson is hopeful that Arbenit Xhemajli could make his Sunderland return in pre-season, and believes the centre-half could have a big future at the club.
Xhemajli was identified by Sunderland last summer as a potential recruit based largely on his impressive statistical returns at Swiss club Neuchatel Xamax.
The 23-year-old was only able to make one appearance for the Black Cats in a 8-1 EFL Trophy win over Aston Villa U21's before suffering a major ligament injury on international duty with Kosovo.
Johnson had earmarked Xhemajli as a potentially crucial player based on his own research of the Sunderland squad before arriving, and is therefore encouraged to see him making good progress.
"Arby is back out on the grass as well and it is really nice to see him out there," Johnson said.
"He's a lovely lad and when I came into the football club I'd done my research and it was interesting that statistically he came out as the best defender in the division, albeit that may have been a bit skewed in terms of the weighting given to the foreign division that he came from.
"He was a player that I was looking forward to seeing and I didn't know the extent of his injury until I got into the building.
"It has been good to see him out there, bounding over hurdles and changing direction.
"He is not close to a return, but if we can get him some minutes in pre-season then that would be quite a fast-track in terms of his recuperation."
Xhemajli signed a two-year deal last summer, with Sunderland confirming that they had paid 'significant compensation' to bring him to Wearside.
The club beat off competition from two Bundesliga 2 clubs who had made a move to sign the Kosovan.
Though Sunderland have a number of players out of contract this summer, the centre of defence is one area here Johnson will begin pre-season with options.
Bailey Wright and Xhemajli both have another year left on the deals, while the head coach has already stated his intention to keep Jordan Willis at the club.
Willis, like Xhemajli, has been sidelined with a knee issue.