Sir Alex Ferguson has suggested that Owen Hargreaves – a player integral to the necessary toughening of Manchester United's midfield to make good the deficiencies so apparent in June's Champions League final defeat – will be available to him again by early November.
After initial hopes that Hargreaves would be back in training for United by pre-season, Ferguson had expressed a nagging uncertainty three weeks ago about the physical condition of a player who does not return to Britain until 23 September from rehabilitation in the United States following surgery on his right knee last November and on his left knee, to eradicate tendinitis. Ferguson's seems like an ambitious timeframe but the United manager said he expects Hargreaves available for United's "last three Champions League games" – which would mean him playing a part by the time United encounter CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford on 3 November.
If Ferguson's assessment proves accurate – and earlier estimates of a return date in January had seemed realistic – then it will be good news for Fabio Capello. It was in the last World Cup that Hargreaves, then a Bayern Munich player, demonstrated himself to be a player of international pedigree. A January return would leave Hargreaves with a race to establish himself for South Africa after 15 months out of the game. He last played for United at Stamford Bridge almost a year ago.
Ferguson's optimism has seen Hargreaves force the Serbian Zoran Tosic out of United's Champions League squad. "[November] will be the time when we want to push him back into action. And he is such a versatile player, a man who can play in so many positions, that he could be a very important player for us at that time of the season," the manager said.
Ferguson also dismissed Arsène Wenger's attack on the "anti-football" mentality of Manchester United and Darren Fletcher as the words of an "agitated" man who is under pressure to start the season well. Ferguson's response to Wenger, who had suggested Fletcher's conduct in his side's 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford two weeks ago, was worse than Eduardo da Silva's dive against Celtic which has earned him a two game ban, was measured. However, Ferguson's words suggest that the détente between the two of them is not absolute. "I think he was a bit agitated right from the start [of the Old Trafford game]," Ferguson said. "I think he knew it was a big game for them. It was a bigger game for Arsenal than it was for United because the last two or three seasons had been disappointing for them. This time, they started well, putting six past Everton and four past Portsmouth so, it was frustrating for them."
And of Wenger's assertion that Fletcher had committed 20 fouls in the game he insisted he was "not bothered with that". He added: "I thought Fletcher was fantastic. I said right after the game that, for me, he was the star man. Darren Fletcher always seems to be man of the match against Arsenal."
Rio Ferdinand is a serious doubt for United's difficult trip to early pace-setters Tottenham Hotspur today. But Gary Neville could figure having proved his fitness in a reserve match last week. Antonio Valencia may start on the bench as the Ecuador winger has had a long journey back from international duty in Bolivia.
John O'Shea is doubtful after suffering a calf injury on duty with the Republic of Ireland, while goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar's broken thumb will keep him out for another month. United will remain in London after today's game, flying out from the capital tomorrow for Tuesday's Champions League opener with Besiktas in Istanbul.Reuse content