Ferdinand set to be fit for start of season after rapid recovery

Rio Ferdinand is likely to start the season with Manchester United after making a quicker-than-expected recovery from the knee injury that forced him out of the World Cup. United confirmed yesterday that Ferdinand would be ready to play again 10 weeks after sustaining the injury in England's first training session of their disastrous World Cup campaign. That would put him in line to play the opening fixture against Newcastle at Old Trafford or away to Fulham the weekend after.

The man who is still nominally England captain described his last season, in which he started just 19 matches, as "the worst of my career". Given England's need for new blood, his international position is not certain and there have been signs that his club manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has been hunting around for cover in central defence.

Ferdinand's usual partner at United, Nemanja Vidic, has yet to give any clear assurances on whether he intends to remain in Manchester, especially given the interest shown in him by Jose Mourinho's new regime at Real Madrid and his wife's reported desire to move to Spain. However, while United possess excellent cover in the shape of 22-year-old Jonny Evans, Ferdinand's injury record at 31 is a cause for concern, hence the signing of Fulham's Chris Smalling and Ferguson's interest in Bolton's Gary Cahill.

The former was not a regular starter at Craven Cottage but Cahill's manager, Owen Coyle, described his player as the best centre-half in England and recommended, without success, that the England manager, Fabio Capello, take him to South Africa. At 24, Cahill is the right age to fit in with Ferguson's policy of only bringing young footballers to Old Trafford and, at £15m, is likely to be affordable.

Ferdinand is unlikely to feature on Manchester United's American tour, which starts three days after a World Cup final that – before a tackle with Emile Heskey in training – he had hoped to lead his country into.

Ferguson has said that nobody from the club who took part in the World Cup will travel on the five-date tour, which would rule out Patrice Evra, Vidic, Wayne Rooney and probably Nani, who was sent home by Portugal after suffering from what purported to be a shoulder injury, although there had been speculation that there were disciplinary reasons.

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