JOSH Vela is in the best shape of his Wanderers career but Dougie Freedman admits the youngster still has work on his hands to claim a starting place.

Home-grown talent Vela faces a fight with skipper Jay Spearing, Liam Trotter, Neil Danns and Medo Kamara for one of two deep-lying midfield roles likely to be on offer against Watford on the opening day of the season.

A loan spell at Notts County last term saw the 20-year-old return strong for pre-season, where he featured prominently until a minor knee injury laid him low last week.

Freedman praised Vela for getting himself in contention but has not ruled out another loan spell for the Salfordian somewhere down the line.

“When I arrived at this club there had been a little bit of paper talk saying Josh might go here or there, and that got to him a bit,” he told The Bolton News.

“Josh has come out of that little bubble and now understands it’s the real world and got himself together on and off the field.

“He’s looking as good as I’ve ever seen. He’s really pushing but he’s in a position where there is a lot of competition, probably more than anywhere else on the field.

“It’s up to him to get a position in the squad I pick every week and if that doesn’t happen then he’s got other options.”

Newly-installed skipper Spearing is one of the few players guaranteed a start at Vicarage Road, a game that will come exactly a year after he made his move from Liverpool permanent.

The £1million fee represents the largest fee that Freedman has paid for a player since moving to the North West from Crystal Palace but, says the Whites boss, will eventually represent a bargain buy.

“With Jay we signed the ready-made leader,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good group of players in the dressing room that have no other agendas other than to help get the club back to where we feel it belongs.

“Jay underlines it all. I said at the time that I was so grateful for Eddie Davies putting his money in to make that deal, and I firmly believe that in the next four or five years that fee will be cheap.”