An old problem has accompanied Manchester United into the new season. Owen Hargreaves' career is now detailed in medical bulletins rather than match reports and the midfielder's condition is a source of such anxiety that he will remain in the United States for treatment on his knee problems rather than return to England.
The 29-year-old has undergone several operations for the tendinitis that has dogged both knees, and he looks certain to miss the start of this season. He has already lost much of the past two years to injury, and the latest setback seems significant as United attempt to regain the Premier League title from Chelsea.
"He had a recurrence of the knee injury, which is of great concern to us," said Sir Alex Ferguson. "He will remain [in the US] until he is ready to come back and train."
The United manager was speaking at the start of their pre-season tour of North America. The team left a training camp in Chicago to play their opening match against Celtic in Toronto yesterday, and recorded a 3-1 victory, with Dimitar Berbatov, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley scoring. The club's World Cup players remain on holiday, but United fielded a strong line-up, including Edwin van der Sar, Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Berbatov, whose all-round display was impressive. "It's the first game, still too early to judge, but it was a good test of our physical form," the Bulgarian said.
Celtic acquired an extra player for their return when the versatile Mexico international defender Efrain Juarez joined the squad after agreeing a four-year contract. The 22-year-old will not finalise his transfer from the Mexican club Pumas until he has passed a medical.
Ferguson revealed that he has twice turned down the opportunity to manage England. Although unwilling to disclose when, it is thought he was approached to succeed Terry Venables in 1996 and then Glenn Hoddle in 1999. On both occasions, the Glaswegian felt unable to accept. "Of course, it was just out of the question," he said. "It's a poisoned chalice anyway. It's a terrible job."