Owen Hargreaves' Manchester United career is in grave jeopardy after his manager last night cast grave doubts on the hopes of another comeback, disclosing that he has returned to Munich for yet more medical treatment.
Hargreaves limped off after 10 minutes of his comeback game against Wolverhampton Wanderers on 6 November, having played only one minute's first team football since September 2008. Sir Alex Ferguson's hopes that he would recover from the hamstring tear that has followed a two-year struggle with tendinitis were pessimistic. "We are all concerned," said Ferguson, who is expected to field a strong side against Valencia as he seeks top spot in United's Champions League Group C match at Old Trafford tonight. "He has not played for over two years so we would have to be super-optimistic to think everything in the garden was rosy about him making comebacks. What we are trying to do is help the lad try to get back to a level where he can still play football."
Hargreaves is 30 next month and out of contract at the end of the season, and Ferguson was able to offer no firm suggestion that he will be offered another one. "It's not something that we are thinking about at this moment in time," was his bleak assessment.
Ferguson insisted that Hargreaves' surprise return to the side was not an unnecessary risk for the player after nine days' training and suggested that he might have avoided a full tear to the hamstring by leaving the field sooner. "There were no qualms whatsoever about putting him in. If he had realised early enough and come off before he had done any more damage, it could have been three to four weeks. But it is a complete tear."
Hargreaves did signal a problem within minutes of the game starting, though last night Ferguson was not prepared for any public show of empathy towards a player who has appeared only 26 times for United since signing in May 2007. "He has to fight it," he said. "There is no other way." Hargreaves' only consolation is that the hamstring is a new injury and unrelated to the tendinitis his surgeon Dr Richard Steadman has claimed is cured.
Ferguson also revealed that another injury-wracked player, Michael Owen, will need two weeks on the training ground before his hamstring is risked again. Javier Hernandez may partner Wayne Rooney tonight as United seek the point they need to top the group against a Valencia side who have already qualified.
Hernandez's seven goals in nine appearances this season included the extraordinary header at Stoke as well as the winner in Valencia and Ferguson yesterday compared his aerial ability to Denis Law's: "He has got the spring but he also has the ability to just hang there for a second or two, just like Denis Law and Ian St John."
Barcelona's 5-0 win over Real Madrid has strengthened Ferguson's desire for a top spot which would help United avoid either of those sides next. "If you get Barcelona on one of their good days they can do that to anyone," said Ferguson.
Smith remains focused
Rangers manager Walter Smith does not buy into the notion that tonight's meeting with Bursaspor in Turkey is a dead rubber. Rangers cannot qualify for the knockout stages as the Turkish side look to win their first point in their first season in the competition. Rangers have already secured a Europa League place although a draw at least and probably a win is needed to be seeded. Smith said: "I still think it is an important game. We have the co-efficient to look after as well and there is still a fair amount of money available for winning the game." The cash-strapped club are on the verge of being taken over by Scottish tycoon Craig Whyte.
KEY CONFRONTATION: NEMANJA VIDIC v ROBERTO SOLDADO
Soldado has scored five goals in five Champions League games for Valencia this campaign and will offer a severe test to a United side who have yet to concede in the competition this season. Vidic's fine form sinceassuming the captain's armband has been a major factor in United's fine defensive record which has alreadyled them into the knockout stages.Reuse content