Fulham coach Roy Hodgson believes veteran striker Jari Litmanen could yet play a crucial role in their fight for Barclays Premier League survival.
Litmanen is back in training following a minor heart scare but his first-team chances have been limited due to the recent form of Brian McBride and Eddie Johnson.
That has kept the pressure off Litmanen to make an immediate return but as Hodgson points out, the Finland striker could still become part of his firepower as the season reaches its climax.
Litmanen, now 37 and dubbed ‘The King’ back home, has enough experience and pedigree to boost Fulham’s survival hopes after collecting a record number of caps for his country as well as being Finland’s all-time top goalscorer.
Former Finland boss Hodgson knows Litmanen could prove to be the “joker” in his pack with eight games remaining.
“To know Jari Litmanen as I did, having worked with him, and to know we could get him here was just a great joker to play in our pack,” said Hodgson.
“At the moment, because he hasn’t been fully able to get himself fit to figure, it’s not been a fortunate joker but still a good one to have around.
“You can’t have too many front players. They’re the ones that injuries happen to and they lose form, so you can never have too many going into a situation like we are.
“I’m delighted to have Jari around. He is playing with his usual enthusiasm. He’s certainly not match fit but he might just get there.
“I’m lucky in the sense that with McBride and Johnson doing well I don’t miss Jari quite so much as I may have done had it been a disastrous situation.
“I may have been looking in midweek and saying ‘My God, when are you going to be fit?’. But I can be more relaxed about it because the other guys are doing okay.
“When Jari is mechanically fit he’s never far away from being match fit. He keeps himself very fit. When we (Finland) played Azerbaijan he hadn’t played for a football team for five months. He’d not done one training session outside of the Finnish national team and he played 90 minutes.
“He’s contracted to us until the end of the season and then we’ll take a further assessment of the situation and talk to him again. Who knows – maybe he’ll be fit and we’ll like what we see and want to keep him for next season.”