Ferdinand future remains bleak, admits Ferguson

Worry for club and country as central defender's back injury is slow in healing
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The Independent Football

In an admission which is as worrying for his own club as for Fabio Capello, Sir Alex Ferguson has said that there is still "no light there" regarding the prolonged fitness battle of Rio Ferdinand, with Manchester United hoping that another injection might help resolve the back problem which is now threatening to destroy the 31-year-old's season.

Ferdinand has not played for United since the 2-0 defeat at Anfield on October 25 and though he is continuing to undertake the core body work which has been part of his regime for dealing the back injury for nearly a year now, Ferguson is currently playing a waiting game. "He gets his core work done in the gymnasium, we gave him an injection just over two weeks ago so we had to let that settle for a week," the manager said ahead of United's visit to Hull tomorrow. "He did nothing for a week and then got back into the gym work and we're hoping that that pain goes away."

There is a gallows humour for Ferguson at the moment where his defensive injury list is concerned. "Bill Foulkes is on standby," he joked on Christmas Eve and no fewer than eight senior defenders have been missing at times since mid-November. But Ferdinand's position is of more fundamental concern. The defender has already accepted that his days of playing continuous football are behind him but his back, which has been linked to debilitating pain in his calf, has limited his Premier League starts to five this season. Two of his season's three England appearances will be remembered for uncharacteristic errors.

"It's difficult to put a time line on it," Ferguson added. "Anyone who's got a back injury or a sore back knows what I'm talking about. It is a difficult thing. He's not showing that it's troubling him mentally. He's quite a composed lad, Rio, and quite a laid-back lad. But inwardly he'll be feeling [worry] - there's no doubt about that - because he's a footballer and footballers like to play. He'll be thinking about all sorts; the run-in to the league and important games coming up because he's missing out on that."

His place in Capello's plans for South Africa will inevitably come into the mental equation, too. Capello made it quite clear before England's qualifier in Ukraine – where Ferdinand's mistake led to the decisive penalty being awarded against England – that no player short of full fitness would go South Africa and Ferdinand acknowledged then that he knew as much.

The back problem has also compromised Ferdinand's groin and thigh areas. He has been to see a specialist but the root cause of the issue has been difficult to diagnose and even harder to treat, with rest the only obvious solution. There had been hopes that the 2 January FA Cup third-round tie at home to Leeds United, his former club, might be a comeback date, though that is in doubt now. Ferdinand can only take heart from the fact the competition for his place alongside John Terry in the centre of England's defence is extremely weak. Matthew Upson is the next best bet.

Ferguson hopes Jonny Evans could be fit for Leeds, however. The 21-year-old Ulsterman has started training though he is still feeling the calf injury which has kept him out of the side since the defeat at Chelsea on 8 November.

It is Ferguson's good fortune that instead of being in action today and then again on December 28, his own team's games will take place tomorrow and on the 30th, when Wigan go to Old Trafford. By then he hopes to have Nemanja Vidic and Wes Brown available after calf and hamstring problems, respectively. The plan is to get one of them on the pitch at the KC Stadium, while teenage Brazilian brothers Rafael and Fabio Da Silva are being pushed ahead of schedule to make the trip across the M62.

Ferguson acknowledged that United "have to get back the creation and imagination in our play" which has been missing in the defeats to Aston Villa and Fulham. "We have to make sure we're better attacking-wise. We didn't create a lot of chances in the match against Fulham. I think Arsène Wenger said you could lose seven games and still win the league this year," he added. "Someone also pointed out that the recognised top four have lost 41 points between them already this season, which no one would have thought would happen. So it's an unusual league. There will be more banana skins on the way, and as I always say, you have to try to make sure you're aware of them. It's a tough league so we have to perform well."

Rio's back story: A year of pain and false starts

*Dec 2008

Suffers a back strain during United's trip to Japan for the Club World Cup.

*Jan 2009

Misses crucial Chelsea clash after suffering painful back spasms despite training all week.

*May 2009

Recurrence of his calf injury sees him miss last three games of Premier League season and makes him doubt for Champions League final.

*May 2009

Ahead of the final Rio admits, "this has been perhaps the hardest and most important injury battle of my career."

*Jun 2009

Pulls out England squad for qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Andorra after failing to recover from calf injury.

*Aug 2009

Misses first four United matches of the season due to a thigh injury linked to his back problem.

*Sept 2009

Returns from his thigh injury two weeks ahead of schedule.

*Oct 2009

Rio admits to struggle for form, "I feel I need 10 games under my belt of continuous playing and go from there."

*Oct 2009

Suffers recurrence of calf injury after 2-0 defeat by Liverpool on Oct 25, the last time he played this season.

*5 Nov 2009

Team-mate Wes Brown admits "Rio has been injured for a very long time and he's been getting a lot of pain in his back for a long time."

*6 Nov 2009

Ferdinand is sent for further tests to discover whether his calf problems are linked to his back injury.

*12 Nov 2009

Has special injection in attempt to let him play through the pain barrier.

*17 Dec 2009

Insists that there is "no question" regarding his participation in next summer's World Cup.