Stoke City manager Michael O'Neill has provided an update on how Harry Souttar's road to recovery is progressing, as the club return to pre-season training in England.
It has been a long road back for the Socceroos centre-back, who suffered a serious knee injury in November 2021.
While Souttar was present in Qatar for Australia's memorable play-off victory over Peru supporting his teammates, he continues to work towards a long-awaited return to the pitch.
Speaking to British media, O'Neill confirmed that he still has a few key milestones to meet before staking his claim for a FIFA World Cup berth.
“Harry is working extremely hard," he said. "You can tell he’s desperate to get back out on the grass because he’s spent so long working in the gym and everything doing all that type of rehab work which can get monotonous. We’re hopeful we can see him back on the grass in the next week or two.
“When the World Cup comes around that will be 12 months since his injury and cruciates are all different. Some players can be back after seven or eight months and some can be 12 months. It’s different, every player is different and the rehab is different for every player.
“It’s a massive target for him. I’ve always said to him that his first target is to get back and play for us but the fact that he’s got the World Cup as well is a massive boost for him.
“It’s something he has to aspire to get himself fit for but it also has to be managed."
While he continues to fight his way back to full fitness, November's World Cup remains a clear target for Souttar.
“Every player is different biomechanically – Harry is obviously 6ft 7in – and every player has a different journey back to fitness," O'Neill explained.
“He’s proven in the time we’ve had him in the team how important a player he is for us, he’s well regarded not only in our league but people obviously look at him and see a centre-half at a good age who has got massive potential. Now obviously he has the chance to go to the World Cup.
“We had to step Harry’s rehab back a little bit so he’s not at that point where he’s close to joining in training at this minute in time."