AFTER firing Port Vale past Burton Albion in the FA Cup, Dennis Politic said he fancied a trip to Manchester United in the third round.

That he is looking forward to January playing in the Potteries could be a strong hint on his future direction, but given the option, there are many Bolton fans who would have him back at the UniBol the moment the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve, whether he wants to be here or not.

Wanderers have the option to recall him next month but there has been precious little indication that they will exercise their right.

Politic is out of contract in the summer and going off Ian Evatt’s lukewarm responses to questions on the progress being made on a new deal, no agreement is forthcoming.

An offer was certainly made to the 21-year-old back in August along similar lines to that of Ronan Darcy, who was also heading out on loan to Norwegian side Sogndal. At the time, there were confident sounds at Wanderers that both academy graduates would sign but that quickly changed.

Though the prospect of Darcy returning to compete for a first team spot in the New Year has been openly discussed – albeit now stymied by international red tape – Politic’s continuing effort to achieve full fitness down the M6 has felt like a subject Bolton would rather not discuss.

The motives for sending the youngster out on loan were easy enough to understand. Politic had made 30 appearances and scored five times in a frantic 2018/19 campaign, which started with a team of kids and ended with a relative team of strangers sliding to relegation in a global pandemic under Keith Hill.

There was little argument that circumstances had placed too great a burden on some of the younger players but nevertheless Politic looked a player destined to feature regularly in League Two under Evatt until a horrible knee injury sustained in pre-season at Loughborough University took away nine months of his career.

In the long hours Politic worked with the medical staff to recover, Wanderers went through a major metamorphosis. The whole dynamic of squad he had trained alongside in the summer was different by the time he resumed light duties in April and May this year, packed with more experience, steeled by a superb run to promotion.

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His appearance off the bench in pre-season friendlies against Barrow and Blackburn Rovers were warmly applauded by supporters but there was a general acceptance that he would take time to get back to full fitness, and perhaps would not have the first team opportunities at Bolton to accomplish the mission.

A fortnight later the loan deal with Vale was agreed, presumably with heavy influence from the club’s director of football, and ex-Wanderers assistant boss, David Flitcroft.

The lack of a signed contract on his departure was a nagging concern. A few months later it is a big red flag. Wanderers do look at risk of losing Politic’s services for the modest fees offered as training compensation.

It is also fair to highlight at this point that Politic’s two late goals against Burton in the cup were scored as a 72nd minute substitute. Indeed, he has started just seven games for Vale, and only three times in League Two.

Darrell Clarke's side has been in the promotion picture for most of the campaign, yet Politic has played only a peripheral role, limited mainly to an impact sub.

A recent groin injury is the latest in a string of minor fitness issues that are presumably linked with such a long spell out of the game. Therefore, it must be also asked whether he is in the right physical condition to be elevated into League One at this point?

Ending Politic’s loan without any clear pathway into the team could also be destructive. Evatt is planning to bring in a handful of new players in January, so to use the Romanian as a short-term ‘stop gap’ may not be good news for his development.

Having him back in the camp, however, could be the best opportunity to fully assess whether he is worth a new contract, or even an improved offer.

Phil Parkinson once described Politic as a “creative maverick” – and that unpredictable tag is one he has struggled to shed. While unquestionably one of the most exciting prospects Bolton have produced from the academy in recent years, there is something of the enigma about him.

Where is his best position? Does he do enough defensively? Exactly who would be rival for a place in the current Bolton team, once the majority of the squad is fit again?

Bringing Politic back in January is a discussion worth having in January. But one fears we already know what the answer will be.