Manchester United could become involved in a dispute with the Belgian national side over the availability of midfielder Marouane Fellaini, who was expected to be on the sidelines until December after damaging wrist ligaments last week.
Fellaini was expected to miss at least seven weeks after seeing a specialist in Manchester having picked up the injury in the 1-1 Champions League draw with Shakhtar Donetsk last week, but he still flew out to his homeland to link up with the rest of the Belgium squad to undergo further medical examination.
The 25-year-old requires surgery on the injury, and United boss David Moyes confirmed the news on Saturday following the 2-1 victory over Sunderland, saying: “He's got a wrist injury. He's going to see a specialist. It doesn't sound too good but we'll wait and find out on Monday.”
However, the Belgium head coach Marc Wilmots wants Fellaini to play in the World Cup qualifiers against Croatia and Wales, and insists that the £27.5m summer signing will train with the rest of the squad today with a protective splint on his hand.
"Marouane Fellaini should be able to play for Belgium against Croatia in Zagreb on Friday," said Wilmots. "Marouane has suffered wrist ligament injury and will have to undergo surgery.
“He will join the squad and train on Tuesday with a splint. As far as I am concerned, in principle he is able to play Friday. This does not mean that he will automatically play. I have not heard from Manchester United asking that the operation should be as quickly as possible."
Should Wilmots select Fellaini, his surgery on the damaged wrist would be delayed by up to two-weeks, meaning he could return later than originally thought. The reigning Premier league champions had already accepted that they would be without Fellaini for the clash with table-toppers Arsenal, but any longer and he could miss league games with Tottenham and Everton, as well as the final Champions League fixtures against Bayer Leverkusen and Shakhtar.
Under Fifa rules, the Belgian Football Association have the final say over whether Fellaini can play or not due to the international break, meaning United could be left without a say in the matter. They currently have Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Ryan Giggs who can occupy the central midfield, while the relatively poor form from Brazilian Anderson makes him unlikely to be a first choice above the other three.
Moyes could choose to select defender Phil Jones as a holding midfield, having fulfilled the position under former manager Sir Alex Ferguson when needed. But the lack of depth in the centre of the park is likely to provoke further criticism of United summer transfer policy, having chosen to bring in just Fellaini after failing in their attempts to sign Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara and Ander Herrera.
Luka Modric, who United were reportedly interested in offering a route back to the Premier League, yesterday ruled out any return to England, and stated that he intends to retire at the Santiago Bernabeu should the future allow him to.