Lee Johnson gives this injury update on Sunderland defender Arbenit Xhemajli
Arbenit Xhemajli is making solid progress in his recovery from a major knee injury, but Lee Johnson has warned that the defender cannot be expected to make a major impact in the early stages of the campaign.
Sunderland paid a significant compensation fee to Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax last summer to secure Xhemajli's signature, but the Kosovo international was able to make just one competitive appearance before suffering ligament damage on international duty.
Xhemajli has been stepping up his recovery in recent times, but Johnson has again stressed the severity of the injury the 23-year-old suffered just under a year ago.
He has warned that while the medium to long-term signs are currently excellent for the defender, it is still some time before he can be considered to be realistically in contention for regular senior minutes.
Xhemajli returned to the Academy of Light with the rest of his team-mates last Monday, but remains on his own tailored programme as edges closer to fitness.
"I don't think we can judge Arby until January," Johnson said.
"That's how long I think he needs to be truly judged.
"That's not saying he won't get games before then, whether it's with the U23s or with us.
"But it was a big, big injury.
"He's done ever so well because maintaining the focus and discipline required when he's away from home, isolated solely really with the physios.
"It's great to see him on the grass, running in straight lines.
"Often with these knee injuries they're so complex, it's almost like you clear one area up and then get a pain in another.
"What I would say is he's on a really nice trajectory, and he's a very good professional.
"I'm very confident that everything we're doing and everything he's doing is going to enable him to have a very long career."
WIth Denver Hume still weighing up a contract offer from the club, Sunderland's defensive options are currently threadbare as the pre-season campaign begins.
Tom Flanagan and Bailey Wright are currently Johnson's only two fit centre-backs, though the Black Cats hope that Ollie Younger will soon be available after falling ill with COVID-19.