Fergie casts serious doubt on Hargreaves' future
Alex Ferguson has raised serious doubts over the ability of Owen Hargreaves to return to top-level football this season by dropping the England midfielder from Manchester United's updated Champions League squad.
Ferguson, who named Hargreaves in United's squad for the group stages of the competition, had recently admitted his desire to involve the injury-ravaged 29-year-old in the last-16 tie against AC Milan this month.
But with the former Bayern Munich player now 16 months into a spell on the sidelines as a result of double knee surgery, Ferguson has effectively written Hargreaves out of his plans for the rest of the season by replacing him in his European squad with the Belgian defender Ritchie De Laet.
Uefa last night confirmed United had requested De Laet's elevation in place of Hargreaves. The Premier League champions have also named Senegalese forward Mame Biram Diouf in place of Danny Welbeck, who is on loan at Preston.
The omission of Hargreaves, who has not played a competitive fixture since September 2008, is a blow for English boss Fabio Capello, who had been prepared to hand the Canada-born player as much time as necessary to prove his fitness ahead of the World Cup.
Despite Hargreaves' latest setback, however, Capello is planning to meet him this month in an effort to gain the midfielder's perspective on his injury.
But with Ferguson deciding he cannot rely on Hargreaves against Europe's elite during the final three months of the season, there now appears to be no chance of him even being in contention for a late entry into Capello's 23-man squad.
Of more immediate concern for United and Hargreaves is when, or if, the £19m signing will overcome his injury problems sufficiently to play for the club again. On his arrival at Old Trafford in May 2007, Hargreaves signed a three-year contract with an option of a further 12 months. United have made no attempt to review the contract, with the club expecting Hargreaves to remain at United until June 2011.
With Hargreaves failing to make a comeback last August, and not even returning to the club from the Colorado base of surgeon Dr Richard Steadman until September, Ferguson then suggested that he would be able to call on his services for the final three Champions League group games.
Although Hargreaves emerged unscathed from a practice match last month, Ferguson has alluded to "confidence" issues preventing the player from taking the final step to competitive action.
Elsewhere, Real Madrid have hit back at Manchester City over the collapse of Argentina international Fernando Gago's proposed transfer to Eastlands on Monday.
"They had nothing prepared, not even one document signed," said Jorge Valdano, Real's sporting director. Gago's agent, Marcelo Lombilla, claimed City "used" the player. "They approached Madrid without even knowing there wasn't physically enough time to put something together," he said.
City are said to be perplexed at Real's stance, having only been offered the player on Monday afternoon, and at £8m more than their original £17m asking price. (Daily Telegraph, London)