Ferguson backs former player in injury court case

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Sir Alex Ferguson appeared in court yesterday to support one of his former players, who is suing a surgeon he blames for ending his career.

The Manchester United manager gave evidence alongside two of his club's players, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, in the multi-million pound case brought by Michael Appleton at Manchester High Court.

The 31-year-old midfielder had to retire from football three years ago after failing to recover from a series of operations to repair a posterior cruciate ligament injury to his right knee.

The surgeon Medhat El-Safty has admitted liability on the grounds that he was wrong to advise Appleton to go under the knife when he sustained the injury during training in November 2001 while playing for West Bromwich Albion.

Yesterday, the court heard testimony supporting Appleton's claim that he could have recovered from his injury in four months with less invasive treatment and gone on to enjoy a successful career.

John Hodgkinson, the surgeon who treated Appleton after Mr El-Safty, said he should have been given physiotherapy rather than an operation.

Work to strengthen his hamstring and quadricep muscles would have supported the joint so it "normally", he said.

Ferguson said he thought Appleton had "a very good career in the game" ahead of him when he left Old Trafford for Preston in 1997, for a transfer fee of £500,000.

The hearing, due to conclude tomorrow, will decide how much compensation to award him for loss of earnings.Appleton, who spent three years as a top youth player at Manchester United, was only kept out of the first team because of older star performers like Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Roy Keane, Sir Alex said.

The Premiership manager told Mr Justice Christopher Clarke that Appleton had shown the strength of character needed to succeed.

He said: "Michael was an example of a player who had a marvellous attitude and the determination to make it. I think he could have been captain material, someone you could rely on, someone responsible."

Neville, who played in the club's reserve team with Appleton during the mid-1990s and trained with him regularly, compared his talents to those of Welsh international and Blackburn midfielder Robbie Savage.

The United captain explained: "Michael was definitely his equal in ability and attitude. He was someone who could have achieved the same level of success and had the determination to do so. When a player like Michael finishes through injury at the age of 25, that's a tragedy.

"That's a lad who should have had a career well into his 30s. That it ended at such a young age is shocking and surprising."