After two years out with injury, three (brief) Bolton Wanderers appearances this season, and two starts with Sheffield Wednesday, it has been a very long road to recovery for Stu Holden. The American midfielder has made incredibly large steps in a bid to return to full fitness this season but there is still some way to go. In his recent run-outs, Holden has looked a lot like his old self, not afraid to go into and take a tackle, all while playing some smart passes. However, he still isn't fully match sharp, but that was to be expected after two years out.
In a briliant interview with ESPN's Jeff Carlisle, which I suggest you go and read immediately, Stu discussed his desire to return to match action:
"I want to be starting. I want to be back and playing every single game. It's the natural instinct of a competitor. Just to be in that environment again, it made me feel I'm back from injury and ready to push on now and take it to the next level.
"No matter how slow I was doing things, my knee was getting to the point where it wasn't really responding as I hoped. I feared the worst."
It was a painfully long process but one that needed to be that way in order to ensure Holden's health. From Owen Coyle, to the medical staff at Bolton Wanderers, to James Hashimoto (Stu's physical therapist), to Dougie Freedman, no one wanted to rush the midfielder back to action. It was all done little by little, just how it should have been.
The fans have had two things on their mind when it comes to Stu: if he will be back on the pitch fully fit and if he will be in a Bolton Wanderers shirt next season. The American's contract expires at the end of this season and just about all parties are desperate for him to extend. The fears of Holden leaving were not diminished when Dougie Freedman sent Stu on loan to Sheffield Wednesday at the end of March on a month-long deal. As Jeff Carlisle wrote in his piece though, Holden does not want a permanent deal out of that:
Holden is quick to add that there is no intention of the loan turning into a permanent move. Bolton has been in talks with Holden about a new contract with the player stating that all that's left is "an end-stage negotiation."
The Wednesday move was simply one to get Stu playing time in competitive fixtures as reserve matches at the County Ground were no longer cutting it. League play will make Stu fitter, stronger, and better again, building him up to the midfield force that he was before his injury.
"My strength is there, my fitness is there, it's just building on that. You can always get fitter; you can always get stronger in little ways like that. And that's what's going to come in games. Getting knocked off the ball, riding a challenge, going to shoot and someone slide tackling you; you can't replicate that in rehab and training as much as you want to. Those are things I'm looking to get more of and in each game just getting better and more comfortable, and just getting back to the level I was at two years ago."
With the season, and Holden's contract, expiring soon, Bolton fans will be biting their nails until everything is finalized and official. The goal for Stu is to boss the center of midfield again and hopefully that will be at the Reebok Stadium in a white shirt.