Stoke boss Mark Hughes says Bojan Krkic has been desperate to play for five weeks as he prepares to throw him into the starting XI this weekend against Leicester.
The 25-year-old ex-Barcelona and Roma forward last began a Barclays Premier League game in January, when he got the winner against Leicester, who visit the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.
Later that month cruciate knee ligament damage finished a season in which he had scored five times in 18 appearances but – having featured in the Capital One Cup and as a substitute against
Arsenal this term – Hughes believes Bojan is already near the levels he produced prior to his injury.
“He’s been desperate to play for about five weeks,” Hughes said.
“He’s understanding of the fact that I’ll pick him on merit, I’ll pick him when I feel he’s ready and I’ll pick him when I feel he can have the same impact as he had prior to the injury. He’s very, very close to that point.
“We’re delighted that he’s an option so early. We didn’t really expect him to be in my thoughts at this stage given the injury that he had. As a consequence of how well he worked and the amount of work he put in, he deserves a lot of credit.
“We’re delighted we’re in the position we find ourselves in and I have the option to pick him if I want.”
It may be eight months since Bojan last started a game for Hughes but the Welshman praised his “tenacity and drive” in getting himself fit again and believes those qualities will serve him well as he looks to kick-start winless Stoke’s season.
“There was a lot of expectation on him because he had a huge impact for us,” Hughes added.
“Everybody wants him to come back and make that immediate impact. If the timing of his comeback wasn’t managed correctly, he wouldn’t be in the position to come back and make the impact that we think he will do when he’s back playing regularly.”
Striker Mame Diouf is once again struggling with a hamstring issue and may miss the visit of the Foxes, although Glen Johnson has trained this week following a groin strain and captain Ryan Shawcross is jogging again after a back operation.
The Potters head into this weekend’s slate of games occupying the bottom three along with fellow winless outfits Sunderland and Newcastle.
However, Hughes is relaxed over their slow start to the season which has included fixtures against Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal.
“It’s early days, we have no anxiety,” Hughes said. “We know we’re a good group of players and the first win will come, ideally at the weekend.”
Both Stoke and Leicester have failed to keep a clean sheet this term and Claudio Ranieri has offered the incentive of free pizza if his players manage to keep a shut-out on Saturday.
Rather than following the Italian’s lead, Hughes’ squad might get treated to a delicacy closer to home instead.
“We’ll go for oatcakes, I think; a lot nicer,” he said.