It is now exactly two months since Islam Slimani stepped onto the pitch in a competitive match.
The 16 January saw the striker start for Leicester as they beat Fleetwood 2-0 in the FA Cup.
The Algerian international made the first goal that day but didn’t get on the scoresheet himself.
Arriving on loan at St James Park with a minor thigh injury picked up in training, Islam Slimani was expected to miss only one or two games at worst.
Now nearly seven weeks later he still hasn’t been involved.
Having trained away from the main group so far on the trip to Spain, Slimani still isn’t sure to be involved when United play Royal Antwerp on Sunday lunchtime in a friendly. A game that will have three periods of 45 minutes each to try and give as many players as possible decent time on the pitch.
Rafa Benitez says that a decision on his participation will be made tomorrow, though it did have a positive undertone, with the Newcastle boss saying the forward is doing well.
This week saw surprise news that despite the player’s long absence through injury, Algeria had still named him in their squad to play two friendlies this month.
The thought of Islam Slimani stepping onto the pitch in a friendly for his country, when he hasn’t played a single minute yet for the club paying his wages, wouldn’t go down too well with any Newcastle fan.
However, Rafa was trying to play the whole thing down when asked about the situation. The NUFC Manager saying that there has been ongoing contact between the club and Algerian national team, advising them of the striker’s progress and making clear to them what the plan is to get Slimani back playing.
It does sound as though Algeria have insisted that the striker travels to join the squad, with Benitez saying ‘He has to go there – they have to check him.’
I think it isn’t difficult to read between the lines and see that Rafa Benitez is trying to keep everything professional and treating the Algerian national team with respect BUT at the same time making clear that if Islam Slimani did end up playing this month for his country, they must only do it if he is fully fit.
Asked whether Islam Slimani would be involved in Sunday’s friendly, Rafa Benitez:
“It depends on tomorrow (Saturday).
“We are monitoring him and he is doing well – but it depends on how close he is and how he feels – after that we will decide.
“The point is that if he can be involved, he will be closer.
“If not, we have to wait and see what happens with the national team.
“He has to go there – they have to check him.
“They (Algerian national set-up) know our plan, our programme.
“It is just to follow this programme and if he can’t play here, they then have to decide if he is available there.
“They know the plan (to get Islam Slimani fully fit), they have the plan already, our doctor is in contact with them.
“We will see how he feels these two days and after that we will be monitoring him every day.
“The plan is to see how he feels tomorrow (Saturday) and if he cannot play he will go with the national team.”