Antonio Valencia's season may not be over, despite the double fracture to the leg which is understood to have left him a desperately desolate individual when Sir Alex Ferguson visited him in hospital early yesterday.
Ferguson, who was at Valencia's bedside by 9am, assured him that Manchester United will support him through his horrific injury and told him to take heart from the fact that the break to his left leg is a "clean" one. The 24-year-old, not one of the most outwardly confident of United's players, was said to be "devastated", though two of the Ecuadorean team doctors believe that he might be back in football within six months, which could make a role in the later stages of the season a possibility. Valencia underwent surgery at 4pm yesterday.
Both Hector Bohorquez and Patricio Maldonado agreed that the injury – caused by the impact of Valencia catching his foot in the sodden Old Trafford turf against Rangers on Tuesday night – would keep him out until March. "He will be out for an initial four to five months, and then he will need a lot of rehabilitation to recover his mobility," Maldonado said. "It is a double fracture to the tibia and fibula in his left ankle."
Ecuador are also already preparing to offer psychological help to the 24-year-old, though Valencia is not the only one for whom the events of Tuesday were a blow. Wayne Rooney will take a heavy hit from his team-mate's absence, though one of the few scraps of comfort for Ferguson is that it was not his talisman who suffered the calamity on the turf. Rooney seemed to turn his ankle in a position inches from Valencia's calamity, three minutes before half time, though he ran off his discomfort.
The striker's attempts to evade questions from journalists on Tuesday night were about as subtle as his alleged nocturnal indiscretions. Rooney pretended to receive a call on his mobile – but since it takes 30 seconds to weave through Old Trafford's subterranean "mixed zone" and he didn't seem to have the energy to fake a conversation, he resorted simply to staring at the phone long before he reached the door.
Valencia is the player Rooney said last season that he most wanted to see alongside him on the teamsheet. "I couldn't have scored the amount of goals I have this season without him," he said in May. "He's been great this year and the quality of balls he puts in the box for me has been unbelievable." That statement came after the Ecuadorean supply line had provided two goals for Rooney in San Siro against Milan and a further two later against West Ham United, seven days later.
Valencia's seven goals made him United's top-scoring midfielder of last season, though the anxiety for Rooney and his manager is who might now provide the ammunition from either of the wings, where United are hardly blessed. Luis Nani will have the right wing to himself for the foreseeable future but he is not a player to place the ball on Rooney's head. Someone who can, Ryan Giggs, will be limited by appearances. Park Ji-Sung, the other man in possession on the left, is neither a wide player, nor one Ferguson has been picking terribly much. He has started only two competitive games since United's title-defining defeat by Chelsea in April.
Ferguson would have an instant solution if the 21-year-old Frenchman Gabriel Obertan had started to demonstrate why United paid Bordeaux £3m for him 14 months ago; or if a proven right wing-back had emerged for the position which was once Gary Neville's. Rafael da Silva is another player that Ferguson might have expected to emerge by now, though the Brazilian still lacks the defensive acuity needed to prevent any investment of faith in his attacking game becoming a gamble for Ferguson – as it was in last season's Champions League.
With Liverpool at Old Trafford again on Sunday, Ryan Giggs acknowledged that United cannot afford to drop too many more points in the first 10 games, having let four slip in the last two away games. "Over the last six or seven years probably [you've not been able to drop too many early points]," Giggs said. "We're wary of that. But we also know there's a long way to go. The crowd will light up [on Sunday], it's usually a ferocious game. They'll be coming here to try to win it. I don't think they'll be coming here for a draw."
As to how Rooney will operate as Valencia's absence compounds what is becoming a terrible year, Giggs can only hope. "He has been in good form. He played two good games for England, he's looked sharp in training. His fitness is coming," Giggs said. "Wayne's Wayne."
Results so far: Bursaspor 0 Valencia 4, Man United 0 Rangers 0.
Man United's remaining fixtures: 29 Sep Valencia (a); 20 Oct Bursaspor (h); 2 Nov Bursaspor (a); 24 Nov Rangers (a); 7 Dec Valencia (h).