Diego De Girolamo is poised to enter the final stage of his recovery from a serious knee injury, Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough has confirmed.
De Girolamo, widely regarded as one of the most exciting prospects to graduate from the Redtooth Academy in recent seasons, could be declared available for selection early in the New Year after resuming light-training with Clough’s first team squad.
The teenager has spent nine months battling to overcome the ligament problem he sustained representing Italy during an under-18’s international against Austria in March.
Although Clough has yet to see De Girolamo play - the former Derby County and Burton Albion chief was appointed as David Weir’s permanent successor earlier this term - he recently admitted to being “aware” of the centre-forward’s reputation.
“Diego is doing well but it’s still too early to say when he could be ready and back again,” Clough said. “You’ve got to remember the lad has been out for a very long time and so he could do with a good few weeks of proper intensive training before that becomes the case.
“So, possibly, we could be looking sometime around Christmas. We’ll have to wait and see how things go.”
As The Star revealed earlier this year, Arrigo Saachi, previously of AC Milan, personally intervened to ensure De Girolamo pledged allegiance to the Azzurrini after learning England were also monitoring the Chesterfield born marksman.
De Girolamo, who made his United debut during a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie at Coventry City last term, scored three goals in six outings for Alberigo Evani’s charges before being diagnosed with a damaged cruciate.
“Diego has been doing little bits and pieces here and there,” Clough said. “The physios weren’t too keen but we let him get involved in one of the eight-a-sides we had towards the end of a training session recently.
“When you are effectively working on your own, trying to come back from something like that, it can be absolutely soul destroying at times so I’m sure he’s enjoying being back around the rest of the lads.”
Clough, whose side return to League One action when Swindon Town visit Bramall Lane this weekend, has also chosen to ease Shaun Miller back into the fold after he recovered from a similar injury earlier this term.
The 26-year-old has been an unused substitute in each of United’s previous two outings after starting the draw with Walsall last month.
“It’s important not to expect too much too soon when someone has been out for such a long time,” Clough said. “Shaun has done well but it was inevitable that he’d begin to feel a bit tired because he’s not had a proper pre-season.
“He’s a very good player and you can see his capabilities. We know he can score goals at this level but there is nothing to be gained from taking unnecessary risks.
“It’s important to look after your players and that’s exactly what we are doing with Shaun.”
Meanwhile, Clough has praised Jose Baxter for his contribution in recent weeks. The former Everton and Oldham Athletic forward is expected to feature against Town after opening the scoring during United’s FA Cup success over Cambridge United last weekend.
“Jose will get us goals if we get the ball to him in the right areas,” Clough said. “He has shown everyone in the last two games what he is capable of if he continues to work hard.”