Stuart Holden is still rehabbing seven months after undergoing a fourth major knee operation, but Bolton Wanderers manager Dougie Freedman has left the door open for the free agent midfielder's return to the club.
Holden’s contract with Bolton expired over the summer and, though the Championship side have expressed interest in bringing him back, there has been little contact between the two sides since.
Nevertheless, Freedman was quick sing the American’s praises and, as a certified fan-favourite, hopes to see him don the club’s shirt again in the not too distant future.
‘I hope, I really hope I work with him again,’ he told the Bolton News. ‘He’s a fantastic player and a fantastic fella. No matter what he’ll always be welcomed and that applies to longer terms as well. He is exactly the kind of player I like – he’s enthusiastic, he’s energetic, he wants to be here.
‘The deal is still here,’ Freedman continued. ‘It’s a basic one, based on appearances, and when he starts playing it goes up.
‘For Stuart’s mind, take away the football club, the fans, me, this is a player’s career here. We need to leave him alone and not ask too many questions.
‘When he feels completely ready for contact then we can start talking about what we can do for him.’
Hailed as the next big star of the US national team in the past, Holden has made just 38 appearances for Bolton since arriving from the Houston Dynamo in January 2010, with three serious knee injuries curtailing his once-flourishing career.
His latest attempt at a comeback lasted just 23 minutes into an under-21s game in March, forcing an additional surgery, and Freedman admits that the club were perhaps too hasty to rush the 25-times capped international back.
‘I felt last time it was difficult for both sets of medical staff, and Stuart who was caught in the middle of it, who was completely responsible for doing his rehab,’ he said.
‘We’re taking the view this time – with Stuart’s blessing – that the people over in America do it completely. They will be responsible from the beginning to the end of his rehab, there are no in-betweens.
‘I made the mistake last time, I wouldn’t say badgering him, but asking when he was ready, we could do with this or that, can you play a reserve game?
‘He’s such an enthusiastic guy he was probably giving me the answers I wanted to hear. This time round I refuse to put any pressure on him at all.’
Holden is working as a pundit with various outlets back in the States as he continues his rehabilitation but, at age 29, the odds of him ever rediscovering the form he showcased both in MLS and during the 2010-11 Premier League season as a regular starter are growing ever-slim.