Steve McClaren wants Cheick Tiote fully fit ahead of next month’s Wear-Tyne derby.
The midfielder has been sidelined since late last month with a knee injury.
But Tiote returned to training this week and was in the squad for this afternoon’s Premier League game against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
McClaren, however, has conceded that the 29-year-old is nowhere near fit.
And he is keen to see him get fortnight’s training under his belt during the international break ahead of the home game against Norwich City on October 18 and the derby against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light seven days later.
“He keeps having little niggles,” said McClaren. “He’s got to get consistent and be ready to play.
“This fortnight coming up is huge for him. We want to see Cheicky fully fit and ready to play.”
Tiote’s future looks to lie away from St James’s Park – last year then-manager Alan Pardew admitted he had become “unsettled”amid interest from an unnamed club – with the combative player having struggled for form and fitness for two years.
However, in the short term, he could yet find a role under McClaren, who worked with him t FC Twente earlier in his career.
Asked if Tiote was part of his plans, McClaren said: “Certainly, he’s the type of Premier League central midfield player you need. He fits the bill.
“It’s been one of my biggest frustrations not seeing Cheicky on the training field often enough.”
Tiote was branded a “bad egg” by a journalist on Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement earlier this month.
McClaren launched a staunch defence of the Ivory Coast international at the time, and he has reiterated his position on Tiote, who missed the second half of last season with a knee injury suffered while he was at the African Cup of Nations.
And he said: “It’s good to see him back ... ‘bad egg’ and all this ... as I said last week, what a load of rubbish.
“There’s no better competitor or trainer out there than Cheick Tiote.
“I know him from being a kid. He’s itching to play, (but) you’ve got to be ready.
“He’s trained for three days this week with the team.
“I wished he’d had another week’s training, but he’s definitely in the squad.”