ARBENIT XHEMAJLI is closing in on a return to action with Sunderland after an absence of more than a year.

Having joined the Black Cats from Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax in September 2020, Xhemajli made his Sunderland debut in an 8-1 thrashing of Aston Villa Under-21s in the Papa John’s Trophy later that month.

However, before he could make another appearance for the club, he sustained serious knee ligament damage while on international duty with Kosovo.

It was initially feared his career might be in jeopardy, but having battled his way back to fitness over the last year, he has returned to full training with the rest of the Sunderland squad this week.

He was part of a group that trained at the Stadium of Light this morning, and while he will not be involved in this weekend’s game at Fleetwood Town, Lee Johnson will start considering him for a first-team squad place soon.

“Arbenit trained today, and that was good,” said Sunderland’s head coach. “It was good to see him out there.

"He’s a bit of a way off, but he’s trained properly for the last two days and that was a real heartwarming moment because I know how hard he’s had to work behind the scenes, and how hard the physio department have had to work with him to get him to this point.

“It’s important that we protect him – it was a really bad injury he had – and I’m wincing every time he goes into a 50-50. But every time he comes out of it, I grow a little bit stronger, the belief grows a little bit stronger, and so does he and everybody else.

“That’s good. He looks strong, he looks solid, and he’s a great professional. It can’t be easy with how hard he’s had to work off the pitch. It can’t be easy to move country and get injured pretty much straight away.

“He could have felt a little bit lonely and isolated, but the players have taken him under their wing and we took him up to Edinburgh (during pre-season), which was good. I think he feels as though he belongs here.”