David Dunn is hopeful of being fit to play Premiership football for Birmingham City in early September.
The injury-prone midfield player, who has not played since Boxing Day because of a back problem, saw a specialist last night and could be set to resume training next week.
Dunn, now 25, was close to a place in the England squad before the 2004 European Championships when his injury troubles began. He made only nine starts last season.
Birmingham manager Steve Bruce has not ruled out a return for Dunn next month but optimism is tempered by realism. For now, the ball is in the specialist's court.
"David goes to see the specialist again this week and we are hoping that he can start training again after that," Bruce said. "Four or five weeks ago, the surgeon wasn't quite happy with things - but we are hoping that David gets the all-clear this time around.
"He's been out a long time and he has had a serious back operation.
"He was on his back in bed for ten weeks. We have been patient with him. Everyone knows that David Dunn is a fantastic and exceptional footballer.
"We all know what a talent he is. We are just looking forward to getting him back on the pitch. If we can get back by the end of August or the beginning of September, we will be delighted but we will be governed by what the specialist says."
Bruce will regard the return of Dunn as he would the signing of a new player, which is how the manager felt about the return of Muzzy Izzet.
Izzet missed most of last season with a knee injury but the player has impressed in pre-season training and will be an integral part of the firstteam squad when the season begins next month.
"Muzzy is fit," Bruce said. "It's like a new player for us. I saw glimpses of him training on Thursday and you forget what a good footballer he is. We are delighted he has got back." n West Bromwich Albion have lined up two high-profile friendlies on the Iberian peninsula next week to compensate for the cancellation of their pre- season tour to California.
Albion have now pencilled in a visit to Spanish outfit Sevilla a week tonigh, followed two nights later by a game against Portuguese champions Benfica.
Both fixtures still have to be officially confirmed but Albion are confident that they will suffer no repeat of the chaos that ensued when they were let down by the Americans.
Albion had a firm commitment from LA Galaxy to play them on July 20 but the Los Angeles club did a U-turn when they discovered that Real Madrid were in town. They announced a game against the Galacticos two nights earlier and informed the Baggies they could no longer schedule their fixture.
Instead, Bryan Robson's team have now arranged to play Sevilla, who finished sixth in La Liga last season, on the same night.
Albion will base themselves on the Algarve for an eight-day training camp.
They will play their first game at the El Rompido stadium, Cartaya ( kick- off
9.15pm local time, 8.15pm BST), just across the Spanish border.
Albion will then meet the mighty Benfica, at Albufeira (also a 9.15pm kick-off), around an hour's drive from Cartaya.
Between now and then, Albion face two more warm-up friendlies on home soil at Milton Keynes tonight, then at Crewe on Friday night.
Meanwhile, all of Albion's league derbies next season have now been moved, largely at the request of West Midlands Police.
The club announced last week that the Hawthorns clash with Birmingham City on August 27 has now been brought forward to a 12.15pm kick-off for live screening on Sky Sports. The kick-off time for the reverse fixture, at St Andrew's on March 11, has now also been moved to noon.
The meeting with Aston Villa on January 2 has also been brought forward to noon and the return trip to Villa Park has been put back a day to Sunday, April 9 (noon).