STEVEN GERRARD hopes defender Nikola Katic will be fit to return to action in time for pre-season following the 'career-threatening' knee injury he sustained last summer.

The Croatian has missed all of a historic campaign at Ibrox after tearing his cruciate knee ligament before a ball was kicked this term and he would go under the knife in July to repair the damage.

Katic has been on a rigorous but steady rehabilitation programme in recent months as he has watched on from the sidelines and seen Gerrard's side clinch the Premiership title and reach the last 16 of the Europa League.

Glasgow Times: Nikola Katic

Gerrard will continue to be patient with the 24-year-old as he works through his strength and conditioning work and he could rejoin the Ibrox squad ahead of the new campaign.

Gerrard said: “We’re hoping that he can join the group for pre-season. That’s the big hope.

"If things progress well from now till then, Niko will come in for pre-season and hopefully start building up to getting as fit as he can to be available as soon as he can.

“It’s an injury that you have to be really patient with. It’s a career-threatening injury.

"We all know that when it comes down to knee injuries that are six to nine months, you have to be really careful. There’s no cutting corners.

“You have to listen to the specialists, take it step by step, and there are still a lot of hurdles for Niko to get over.

“He’s been on the pitch starting to jog, which is a big step forward, and we now have to see how the knee reacts to being loaded at 100%. He’s been running on a machine that takes some of the load off.

“At the moment there are still hurdles and things to tick in the short-term, but the dream and the plan for us is to have Niko available for pre-season training.”