Football: Johnsen's knee surgery frustrates Ferguson

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The Independent Online
RONNY JOHNSEN needs operations on both knees to correct career- threatening damage and looks sure to miss the rest of the season.

Manchester United's Norwegian centre-back has a condition called "jumper's knee" or tendinitis of the patella, a problem that affected Steffi Graf. Johnsen hoped to avoid the major surgery, involving removing ligaments, and was put through a special two-month rehabilitation course by the Norwegian FA's doctor, Lars Engebrethsen, who is to speak to United's medical staff this week. Sources close to the doctor say the only course of action is an operation on both knees.

Johnsen could be back in six or seven months, but he looks likely to miss the rest of the campaign. His absence is a blow to his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who has already lost another defender, Wes Brown. He may have to buy a player before the Champions' League deadline at the end of the month.

Johnsen had the problem diagnosed last April but played through pain in the title run, in FA Cup final and then in the European Cup triumph.

The Norwegian medical people thought that Johnsen could improve the strength of his legs and lessen the strain on his knees. The process worked with other athletes, mainly skiers, but Johnsen has not responded as well as expected. He may go back to Norway for the surgery with a final decision on the time and place to be made in the next few days.

Barry Hunter, the Northern Ireland international, had similar radical surgery and took almost two years to recover. Johnsen will hope to be back sooner than that.

Better news for United concerned their goalkeeper, Mark Bosnich, who could be back in action sooner than expected. The Australian limped out of Saturday's 2-0 victory over Leeds after just 20 minutes with what was thought to be a hamstring strain and was expected to be out for a month. However, a scan has shown the injury is not as serious as was first thought and Bosnich could be back in half that time.

United are losing to Middlesbrough in the race for the Argentinian prodigy Claudio Marinelli, because Bryan Robson is willing to take a gamble.

The treble winners wanted the Boca Juniors striker after his formidable display against one of their teams in a match played behind closer doors. However, Sir Alex Ferguson put the move on hold when he was quoted pounds 3m. United were only willing to pay pounds 1.8m, and that only on instalments. Robson has agreed to pay about pounds 2.5m for the 17-year-old, who is yet to make his first-team debut. Middlesbrough's chief executive, Keith Lamb, is flying to Argentina this week in the hope of completing the deal.

Marinelli also caught Robson's eye when he played in a practice match against his reserves. He plays just behind the forward line and is remarkably strong for his years.

Walter Smith, who is trying to strengthen his Everton squad on a shoestring budget, is hoping to tempt Nottingham Forest into parting with Carlton Palmer for pounds 500,000. Smith wants to add some steel to his midfield and thinks Palmer, who is unsettled at Forest, could do the job on a short- term basis.

Smith is not concerned about Palmer's age and the player can also help out at the back where Everton are relying on the even older legs of Richard Gough and Dave Watson.

Everton have failed to reach an agreement with the midfielder Don Hutchison over an extension to his contract. Hutchison signed for the Merseysiders in February 1998 in a pounds 1m deal from Sheffield United and has almost two years left on his present contract, but Smith says talks between his advisers and the club on a longer deal have broken down.

Everton are also hoping to keep Ronnie Ekelund, the former Barcelona and Southampton striker, at the club permanently after his three-week trial. Ekelund is a free agent after being released by his Danish club, Odense.