Of all the young Wanderers talents who emerged with credit from the wreckage of the pandemic-hit 2019/20 season, Dennis Politic carried with him the most expectation.
Whereas it was clear to see that some of the brave Junior Whites had been accelerated on to the first team stage ahead of time, Politic looked ahead of the curve.
He had already shone on loan at Salford City, impressing a watching David Beckham with a long-distance strike the former England skipper would have been proud to call his own. And when fast-tracked into the first team by Phil Parkinson, and then his successor, Keith Hill, few could get fans perched on the edge of their seat the same way.
Standing at 6ft, technically gifted, possessing a velvet-like first touch and an eye for the spectacular strike, the Romania-born winger was not just a player with potential but one who looked to have all the necessary attributes to make an impact on the first team stage right here, right now.
Then, with a League Two season sprawling out in front of him and a manager pledging to play the sort of expansive style in which he was sure to thrive, Politic’s story took a dark turn.
A blazing hot August afternoon on the manicured grounds of Loughborough University, watched by a scattering of pupils, backroom staff and one member of the press, he fell awkwardly near to the right touchline after trying to take the ball with 10 minutes remaining.
Concerned silence in the crowd, a scream of agony from the young man whose season had been ended before it even began.
Bolton’s medical team slipped instantly and unemotionally into gear, taking Politic off on a stretcher, administering oxygen, waiting until the emergency services could take him off the sprawling university grounds.
A practice game then rendered even more meaningless, Ian Evatt walked out of the dressing room afterwards to deliver a grim verdict. But at a time when we were all still getting to know the new manager, a hint towards the dressing room bond he was looking to create – and one which would ultimately lead the team towards promotion.
“This game – life in general – does come to challenge us sometimes and it can be how you deal with that adversity,” he told The Bolton News.
“Dennis has got to stay positive now. It looks like he will be on the sidelines for a long spell, but I said to the players in the dressing room that if one of us is hurt, we all have to hurt. We have to rally round him now and give him the support he needs. That is the only important thing right now.”
Politic had torn the anterior cruciate ligament on his right knee, an injury which at one stage would have been a career-ender, but nowadays can be fixed in a matter of several months.
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The long road to recovery began once the injury had calmed at the Sire Hospital in Manchester, with the youngster posting an Instagram picture from his bed with a thumbs up after a successful operation.
Wanderers’ poor early season form made supporters yearn even more for their absent star, who had signed a new contract the previous January until the summer of 2022.
Then, as any injured player will attest, the public focus switches back to the ebb and flow of a regular season and an individual mental battle begins.
Through all the gym sessions and rehab, Politic had for company another young player looking to get his career back on track after serious injury, Liam Edwards. Bolton avoided too many long-term absentees last season but complications following a fractured kneecap had left the centre-back battling against a series of setbacks, and eventually more surgery.
Determined to keep both players in the discussion, Evatt supplied regular updates on their fitness through his bi-weekly Zoom press conferences, but with each positive step came a pledge that he would not rush Politic, nor Edwards, back before they were ready.
When news finally emerged in mid-February that Politic had returned to the grass for light training duties (Edwards at this point had gone back for a clean out procedure on his knee) rumours swept around the Wanderers support that he could even play a part in the season run-in. Evatt remained steadfast that he would not gamble.
As the Whites raced to a promotion spot, Politic travelled with the group and celebrated on the pitch at Crawley just as fervently as those who had played the 90 minutes. He had good reason – for the summer was once again opening up invitingly.
This week, Wanderers posted pictures of Politic in full training alongside his team-mates, fit and motivated to play a part. The question is, where do his mercurial talents now fit into a well-established puzzle?
When last in League One, his best position seemed to be on the left side, where he was able to cut in on that jackhammer of a right foot. He played several games as an orthodox right winger and even one at Blackpool through the middle, as Hill’s Wanderers went with the fashionable ‘false nine’.
Two of Bolton’s biggest signings this summer are set from a very similar mould. Dapo Afolayan is certainly more comfortable playing off the left, while all available evidence suggests Hamburg loanee Xavier Amaechi tends to start on the right but can play across the front three.
One of Evatt’s trusted lieutenants from last season, Lloyd Isgrove, will also have a strong place to start on the right, albeit he falls into a slightly different category of wide man than the other two, possessing more defensive nous.
When fit, club captain Antoni Sarcevic held an exclusive grip on the number 10 spot, which makes it difficult to see him play the supporting central role. But that brief Blackpool experiment playing Politic through the centre could point to time when he could be considered a rival for Eoin Doyle or Evatt’s other new attacking signing, Amadou Bakayoko.
Politic’s progression last summer was interrupted by injury, thus we never got a chance to see where Evatt saw his future. It is also fair to say his last stint in the first team was surrounded by such drama, pressure and chaos, that it became difficult to assess him fairly in any of the attacking slots he filled.
But every top player has his injury story, a point at which they battled back from adversity and learned lessons which served them well later on. Will this be the start of the second chapter for one of the most exciting talents to emerge from the academy in some time?
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