Xavier keen to return after completing drugs ban
Abel Xavier could return to action for Middlesbrough as early as next week after completing his drugs ban.
The 33-year-old former Portuguese international could line up for the reserves against old club Liverpool next Thursday with his one-year UEFA ban due to expire on Saturday.
Xavier has been training with the Teessiders, who tore up his contract last season after he failed a routine drugs test, since August.
However, manager and former team-mate Gareth Southgate has been unable to watch him in a competitive game as he considers whether or not to offer him a way back into the game.
Provided the club receive clearance from UEFA and can register Xavier as a non-contract player, he could get that opportunity next week.
Southgate said: 'Abel has been training with us for some time now and gradually improving his level of fitness.
'There has been no opportunity to have a look at him in a match because we have had to wait until his ban is finished.
'It is almost over now and the next step will be to have a look at him in action and assess what level of fitness he has achieved.
'Abel's attitude in training has been excellent. He has been working hard and indicating that he feels he has a point to prove.
'Now I need to see him in a match to see if we take it any further.'
Xavier was banned after failing a drugs test following Boro's 0-0 UEFA Cup draw with Skoda Xanthi in Greece last September.
He immediately protested his innocence and has continued to do so ever since, and while Southgate is yet to decide on whether or not to offer him a contract, he believes he deserves a chance to rebuild his career.
He said: 'I have said before that it is important anybody who serves his time during a suspension is then given the opportunity to rebuild his career.'
Should Xavier, who made just six appearances for the club before his positive test, be given a deal, that would provide fresh competition for youngster Andrew Davies, the man currently in possession of the right-back spot.