Owen Hargreaves, the Manchester United midfielder who has not appeared for the club in over a year, will begin training within two weeks, according to manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Hargreaves, included in United’s Champions League squad, returned to the UK from treatment in the United States on 23 September.
The 28-year-old England midfielder underwent surgery on both knees in the United States to resolve ongoing tendonitis, which has threatened to end the former Bayern Munich midfielder’s career.
“We’ll probably get him into training in 10 days and he should be back at the start of November,” said Ferguson in his pre-match press conference ahead of tonight’s Champions League Group B match against VfL Wolfsburg.
“We will take our time because the important thing is to get him playing to the right level. We are in dialogue with him all the time and the physio who was doing his rehabilitation over in America.
“It means we can jointly understand all the treatments and rehabilitation he has been doing.”
Hargreaves has made only 25 appearances for the club since joining United in a £17 million deal, July 2007. He last played for the team in United’s 1-1 draw against Chelsea in September last year.
Former United midfielder Nicky Butt had a key role to play in the transfer of Michael Owen to Manchester United this summer, according to the former Liverpool star. Interviewed in The Times, Owen says that United manager Sir Alex Ferguson contacted Newcastle United’s Butt for an assessment on the former England striker’s form and fitness.
“I was at a dead end but I thought, A road will open up. I just know it will. It has to. Surely it has to,” said Owen of the end of his days at Newcastle United.
“Surely there is someone who needs a striker that can score goals, who has done it in the Premiership.”
Ferguson called the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner to invite him round for a chat, having already made up his mind that Owen would be offered a contract at United.
“The manager’s voice is pretty distinctive, so I knew it wasn’t a wind-up,” said Owen.
“Ferguson told me, ‘We are looking for a striker. I’m going to be up front, we went for Benzema and once that was a no-go we looked around for players who are going to score goals.'”
“‘Obviously the big question is if you are fit, but if you are and we can get plenty of games’, then words to the effect that it’s a no-brainer.
“‘Anyway, there’s no point in talking on the phone, we’ll chat about it tomorrow if you are free and fancy coming round.'”
But Owen, who has played at Real Madrid, Liverpool and Newcastle United, turned up at Ferguson’s house with few expectations of signing for United. Out of contract at relegated Newcastle, only Stoke City, Hull City and Everton showed any interest in the striker.
“I had a few butterflies before I went there,” said Owen.
“I listened more than I talked, which I thought was pretty wise. He said, ‘I know what has happened over the past few years, I know you haven’t lost anything, you are only 29, for crying out loud.'”
“I wasn’t sure if we were just going to chat, but then I realised, ‘Oh my God, he definitely wants to sign me!’ ”
Wayne Rooney is on the cusp of becoming a “great” according to Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The 23-year-old striker, who has 11 goals in 12 games for club and country since June, has taken on the mantle of United’s talisman after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid this summer.
Ferguson believes that Rooney can now be classed in the same bracket as Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Kaká.
“Wayne could easily get to that level,” said Ferguson at his pre-Champions League press conference, Tuesday.
“It was a pretty remarkable feat to get that hat-trick and his progress has never disappointed us at any point since.”
Rooney’s début hat-trick, in United’s 6-2 Champions League group stage win over Turkish side Fenerbahçe, came five years ago, Tuesday. Given that Rooney, recovering from a broken metatarsal suffered at Euro 2004, hadn’t played for 10 weeks still ranks the game as one of Rooney’s finest. 18-year-old Rooney scored four times for England at Euro 2004 and signed for United in a £25.6 million after a late bid from Newcastle.
“When we signed him as a kid, we thought he would become a really top player. Without question he is going in that direction,” said the Scot.
“He is blessed with some ingredients only great footballers have. He has a great determination and hunger to win every match and every training session. That will never change.”
Not only has Rooney added goals to his repertoire this season but he has benefited from being deployed in a central attacking role. The former Everton striker, who notched his 100th goal for the club at Wigan Athletic in August, played much of last season from the left-wing.
The striker, set to make his 50th European appearance for the club, will start against VfL Wolfsburg at Old Trafford tonight. And Ferguson has challenged Rooney, who scored 23 goals in all competitions last season, to beat that tally this term. It is the player’s determination that will make it happen, according to the Scot.
“Sometimes there is criticism about the amounts footballers get paid. But when you see the effort he puts in, he is worth every penny,” said Ferguson.
“He plays as if he means it. It is a wonderful thing to have.”
Unlike United’s former winger Ronaldo, the Toxteth-born player has no intention of letting the plaudits go to his head. The grounded nature of the striker’s demeanour continues to win fans, where the Real Madrid player alienated them. And Rooney says that he wants to become not only the “great” of Ferguson’s praise but a United legend to boot.
“I hope I’m still at United when I’m the same age as guys like Ryan, Scholesy and Gary Neville,” Rooney told The Sun recently.
“I’ve always said that as long as United want me, I’m happy to stay. I don’t want to leave. I love the club and have no reason to even think about moving. I’m sure I’ll be here for a long time.”
Longevity aside many are looking for Rooney to reach not only the upper echelons of the game but be recognised as such. That Rooney failed to get a single vote in the FIFA World Player of the Year poll last season, or challenge for the PFA or Football Writers Player of the Year, says much. Out of the shadows of Ronaldo, Rooney now has the stage to deliver in what will be the biggest season of his career.
Sir Alex Ferguson, always keen to encourage his players to settle down, today demanded central-defender Jonny Evans’ girlfriend “tie him down” in marriage. After demanding that Wayne Rooney marry – then procreate with – Coleen MCloughlin, Ferguson wants the Northern Irish star to walk the aisle. The Manchester United manager has long held-true that married players are less apt to get into trouble.
“I’ve always been an advocate of players being married and settled down. You know where they are. It’s good for the stability of a footballer to be married,” joked Ferguson at his pre-Champions League press conference today.
Evans, next to Ferguson, claimed to “not want to talk about it” in front of his girlfriend, sat at the press conference.
Ferguson had earlier talked about Evans progression as a footballer. Falsely accused of rape after a drunken Christmas party got out of hand in 2007, the Belfast-born player rode the storm to become a stalwart of the United defence. He has regularly filled in for the injured Rio Ferdinand and made 31 appearances in total last season, including the Carling Cup final.
“Sometimes I don’t know whether I am doing the right thing leaving Jonny out because his performance level has been so high,” said Ferguson.
“At times I have been unfair to him. But he is still young. He has a great future here and time will come when I have to put him in.
“The great thing about footballers and young players in particular is that one summer they come back and they are a different player.
“They have a different physique and they tell you by their performance that it is time for them to go into the team.
“It has happened countless times at this club and I would think it is a great worry for any experienced player that one of their own is going to take their place,” Ferguson noted.
The perennially injured Rio Ferdinand, take note.
As for the proposal, no doubt the bachelors in the United squad will remind Evans that marriage isn’t a word, it’s a sentence.
Paul Scholes, who put in a man-of-the-match display against Stoke City at the weekend, says that he’s putting in extra shooting practice in an attempt to rediscover the free-scoring days of his youth. The former-England midfielder netted against Besiktas in Champions League matchday one but scored just three goals last season.
“I suppose I’m in the manager’s office a lot more these days, with him telling me I’m not playing,” said Scholes.
“You still want to impress, but the coaches are always asking how you feel and whether you want to take a day off here or there.
“When I was younger I used to get forward a lot more than I do now. I think the manager expects me to stay in the middle of the park nowadays and pass to the players who can go forward and score goals.
“I’d still like to get forward every now and then and chip in, but you have to play however the manager wants you to play.
“I like to stay and do a bit of shooting practice at the end of training. My goals have dried up a bit in recent years, so I’d like to get back to scoring a few.
“I just want to win more trophies and medals. We’re going to be going for all four trophies again this season.”
The flame-haired midfielder has hit the net 143 times in 611 appearances for the club, after a goalscoring début against Port Vale in the League Cup in 1994. Scholes is likely to sit out tomorrow’s Group B Champions League match against German champions VfL Wolfsburg.
But Ferguson recently insisted that Scholes would be staying on at the club for at least another season, although there has been regular speculation that Bury-born player may retire next May.
Perhaps not quite time to get out the Bob Dylan records just yet.
Reigning German champions VfL Wolfsburg arrived in Manchester today ahead of the side’s Champions League Group B encounter with United at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. The Bundesliga side, seeded the group’s worst outfit, arrives with few in Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad expecting anything other than a thorough test for last season’s beaten finalists. But far from worrying about Wolfsburg, Ferguson is already looking beyond the group towards a third final in a row.
“I think the material is there for us to win the European Cup again. We have a good bunch of players. And if we win it, it won’t be the team that wins it, it’ll be the squad,” said Ferguson.
“But it’s not easy to win it, as we found out in last season’s final against Barcelona.”
“One mistake in a big game like that and you’re crucified, remember that. One mistake – dead.”
United, on a seven match winning streak, emerged from a testing matchday one tie away to Besiktas with a 1-0 view victory, courtesy of Paul Scholes’ header. Ferguson, who will be without virus-struck South Korean winger Park Ji-Sung, is looking for a home win that would take his side to within a game of qualification. Nine points is typically enough to qualify, a fact not lost on the manager.
“If we keep our heads and play the right way in the group stage of the competition, I think we should qualify,” said Ferguson, who is likely to rotate his squad for the tie.
“When we get to the later stages, then we can start to think about getting to the final in Madrid.”
Wolfsburg won the club’s first ever Bundesliga title in 2008-9 and the team arrives at Old Trafford boasting the talents of Edin Džeko, one of the most coveted strikers in Europe. The Bosnian scored 26 league goals last season and was the subject of multiple bids from AC Milan in the summer.
Armin Veh’s side, which has suffered an uncertain start to the season with defeats against Hamburg, Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen, also Includes Brazilian Grafite and former Newcastle United striker Obefemi Martins. Grafite, named German Footballer of the Year after scoring 28 goals in 25 Bundesliga appearances last term, scored a hat-trick in Wolfsburg’s 3-1 victory over CSKA Moscow. He is only the third overseas player to win the award after Aílton and, in 2008, Franck Ribéry.
However, the Wolkswagen-owned team, will be without new signing Thomas Kahlenberg, who is out with a long-term hip injury.
This is Wolfsburg’s first trip to England, although they did emerge victorious from their first encounter with a Premier League team last season – beating Portsmouth 3-2 in the UEFA Cup group stage with goals from Džeko, Zvjezdan Misimović and Christian Gentner.
Ferguson believe’s that it is not beyond Veh’s team to do well in this season’s competition.
“It says a lot for Wolfsburg’s position and progress that they did win the league last year and they did it in a very positive way with the goalscoring form they showed,” said Ferguson.
“They beat Bayern Munich 5-1 with only four or five games remaining and they won their final game 4-0 – that’s emphatic.
“Countries like Germany are always producing clubs capable of winning the Champions League. Yes, the last few years it has been dominated by the English teams in the semi finals and finals but there is always the possibility that someone else can come in to win the Champions League. If you take the final between Porto and Monaco just a few years ago, it’s a case in point.”
Ferguson’s main selection dilemmas are in midfield and up-front. Joining Park on the injury list could be Michael Owen, who is suffering from a minor groin strain. Although the former Liverpool striker took part in light training on Tuesday, he is unlikely to play until fit. While the manager has concentrated on developing the Dimitar Berbatov – Wayne Rooney axis this season, there has been some expectation that Owen may start against Wolfsburg.
In midfield Scholes, superb against Stoke City at the weekend, is unlikely to play twice in three days, with Anderson favourite to replace the former-England star. Ferguson must also choose who to start with on the wing. Ryan Giggs came on as substitute to great effect against Stoke City at the weekend and may play in place of Nani, who was so wasteful last time out.
Rooney, who has now scored 11 in 12 competitive games for club and country since June, will start his 50th European game.
Ferguson’s United has not lost a home game in the Champions League since a 1-0 defeat by AC Milan in February 2005. Wolfsburg, despite its outstanding strike-force, is unlikely to break that record tomorrow night.
Ben Foster admitted he is lucky to still be in the Manchester United team and thanked Sir Alex Ferguson for keeping him there, after the stopper’s errors in recent matches. The Lemmington-born ‘keeper has made high profile mistakes in games against Manchester City and Arsenal this season, leading to speculation that Tomasz Kuszczak may replace Foster in the team. But Foster performed confidently in United’s win over Stoke City after Ferguson’s show of faith.
“I have to say a big thanks to the boss for sticking by me,” said Foster.
“Last Sunday was great for the team but personally, it was an absolute disaster. I was gutted afterwards. I was the only one in the changing room with an upside down smile on his face.
“I pretty much buried my head in the sand. I didn’t really want to watch the television and there was no way I was reading the papers the next day.
“When we got into training I had to face up to it. I had to look at the replays, analyse them and learn from them. The goalkeeping coach has been on at me all week and was really hard on me.”
Foster, whom United signed from Saturday’s opponents Stoke City in 2005, is in the team while regular Edwin van der Sar recovers from a broken hand. But the ‘keeper, who has two caps for England, says he will become a better player for his mistakes.
“I have learnt from it. You are going to have those days as a goalkeeper sometimes and you have to keep them to a minimum,” said Foster.
“The more you play the more concentration and consistency you develop.
“Edwin is a typical example of Mr Cool. He is a fantastic professional and he is someone I want to emulate at Manchester United. He is exactly what I am aiming to be for years to come.”
van der Sar recently confirmed that he will be fit within three weeks – a recovery that will likely end Foster’s spell in the team.
Darren Fletcher, the Scottish midfielder who is one of the most improved players in world football, is not content with his progress to date. The Dalkeith-born player has been an ever present in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team over the past 18-months, gaining a reputation as a tough tackling defensive midfielder. But the Scotland captain says that he would rather be seen in a more positive light.
“I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a destroyer,” Fletcher told the Sunday Telegraph.
“The whole idea is to become an all-round midfielder, who can pass the ball, score goals and get the team going.
“I can be a destroyer when we don’t have the ball and set a high tempo and be the trigger. When we don’t have possession, I’m thinking, ‘right, I’m going to be the first one to press and win it back’.”
Fletcher says that the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez has given him the opportunity to join the attack and score more goals in the past. To become the all-rounder Fletcher must improve on his record of 15 goals in 221 appearances for United.
“The manager has pointed out that Ronaldo has gone and that is a huge goal difference that we need to fill. As players, we all have to rise to the challenge,” he said.
“Ronaldo was good for us, but a lot of players sacrificed themselves for Cristiano too. In a lot of games, I’d be asked to play in central midfield but, whenever he went forward, I’d have to get out to the right to cover him.
“Maybe, now we have got back to 4-4-2, where everybody drops back as a four, it gives the midfielders more opportunity to bomb forward.
“I’d like to think I can get double figures this season because, in this team, you are always likely to get chances if you can get into the box.”
With two goals against Manchester City last weekend, Fletcher is well on the way.