Owen Hargreaves’ hopes of being fit for this summer’s World Cup finals have received a setback, after he was omitted from Manchester United’s squad for the Champions League knock-out stages.
The England midfielder has not played since September 2008 and was expected to return from double knee surgery last August.
Ferguson did, suggest last week that Hargreaves would be among his European options for the rest of the season.
“Yes, Owen will probably be in my Champions League squad,” said the Scot. “It will be finalised in the next 10 days and unless something untoward happens I would imagine we will be picking him.”
But the 29-year-old has now been out for 16 months and is still struggling to regain fitness, so United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has promoted young Belgian defender Ritchie De Laet to the knock-out squad in his place.
England boss Fabio Capello had been willing to give the former Bayern Munich man, who has won 42 caps, as much time as possible to prove his fitness in time for the World Cup.
Ferguson’s decision to omit the Canada-born player indicated he does not expect Hargreaves back this season, though.
Ferguson hoped he would be fit for United’s final three Champions League group games yet although Hargreaves came through a behind-closed-doors match unscathed last month, the manager has alluded to “confidence” issues blocking his return to first-team action.