DAVID Wheater enjoyed some memorable highs and forgettable lows in his eight years with Bolton Wanderers – but the popular defender looks certain to miss out on a return with his current side Oldham this weekend.

The big centre-half has found himself frozen out by the Latics and forced to train with the youth team after falling out with the club over proposed pay cuts in the summer.

Latics boss Harry Kewell has distanced himself from the row, insisting he has no personal issues with the 33-year-old and that fitness issues over the last few months have also been to blame for his lack of game time.

But with Oldham rock bottom of the EFL, having conceded more goals than any other club in League Two, Wheater’s exclusion looks all the more like a club cutting off its nose to spite its face.

The former Middlesbrough man recently returned to Teesside after nearly a decade living with his family in Bolton but is still commuting for daily training and has no plans to hang up his boots, for now.

A move back to Bolton was briefly discussed last season when Keith Hill was in charge but the deal had to be shelved when Oldham’s owner, Abdallah Lemsagam, refused to allow him to leave as an appearance clause in his contract was triggered for an extra year.

Less than a year later, Oldham had released a statement confirming that Wheater and goalkeeper Gary Woods – who has since moved out on loan to Aberdeen – were no longer considered a part of the first team.

The players’ representatives accused the club of putting “undue pressure” on the pair to quit but speaking to The Bolton News this week, Kewell insists there have been different reasons for his absence.

“He came back from the long break at the start of the pre-season and unfortunately he got coronavirus and had to self-isolate for a couple of weeks,” the Australian said.

“He was slowly coming back into it, getting his fitness back up and then he’s been out again, he got knocked-out in a game. He had to have two weeks out again, not doing anything.

“There’s another week period where he’s got to be slowly introduced because we’ve got to be careful with that.

“So as for Wheats he hasn’t really been involved that much and it might be another three or four weeks of training before he’s match fit.

“He’s had a little bit of unluckiness but that’s football and we’ve just got to deal with that.”

Asked whether Oldham’s club statement conflicts with the suggestion that Wheater’s absence is purely down to fitness issues, Kewell relented.

“He’s a fantastic pro, he’s had a fantastic career and the club has never closed the door,” he said. “There are issues that have to be sorted out first and foremost and once they are sorted out I think it’s only fair to anyone that they can (return).

“I have a team to manage and this is something that was here before me and they have to deal with it.

“He’s been away for a long time so it’s very hard.

As a manager you try and speak to a lot of people and I get on well with David, you can ask him, but I have to concentrate on my squad.”

As a player, Kewell came up against Wanderers nine times in a Leeds United and Liverpool shirt, scoring in a 4-2 defeat at Elland Road in November 2002.

Visiting the Reebok – as it was then known – was never a straightforward task and despite Wanderers’ inconsistencies this season he does not expect things to be any different this weekend.

“I usually went there when it was packed out,” he said.

“It was a great team to play because it was just across the Pennines but it was always difficult, they’d always give you a rough go because Sam Allardyce always had the bit between his teeth.

“You’d always know you’d come off against Bolton and it would have been tough.

“I think they’re heading back that way. I think the manager has done excellent, he’s in the same kind of position of me where it’s a new squad, new theories, new ideas, new staff so it takes time to evolve.

“You don’t get that time but if you’re brave enough and you stick with it, then things will change.”