Owen Hargreaves could be back playing in four weeks after returning to England following surgery on both knees.
The Manchester United midfielder has been out of action for a year and has done all his rehabilitation work so far in the United States under the guidance of renowned knee surgeon Dr Richard Steadman.
However, the former Bayern Munich star returned to United's Carrington training complex earlier this week, and boss Sir Alex Ferguson said: "I feel it will still take us four weeks to get him into the rhythm of training again and get to the point of match play."
He added: "Normally, when a player has been out for that length of time he is helped by the fact he is doing his rehabilitation with other players.
"Because he did it on his own in the USA, under the guidance of Dr Richard Steadman, it is not easy.
"But he has the determination and resilience to see it through. He is now back with us and hopefully the boy gets a break and continues his progress without any further mishaps."
As this kind of operation is still quite rare, there must be some doubt over Hargreaves' chances of making a full recovery, or getting back to the level that saw him win 42 caps for England, the last of which came against the USA in May last year.
But Ferguson takes comfort from the growing number of players that have come back from formerly career-threatening cruciate knee ligament surgery, the latest being Chelsea's Joe Cole.
"We don't see the fact he has been out a year as a handicap," said Ferguson. "Other players have been out a similar length of time.
"When Joe Cole came back on Wednesday you forget he was missing for nine months. It is achievable, particularly when they are young."
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