Despite being left out of Manchester United's Champions League squad, Owen Hargreaves remains confident he can still play for England in the World Cup.
Given that the European Cup final is not until May 22, the omission of the 29-year-old, who has not featured for the champions since September 2008 because of tendonitis, appears a serious blow to Hargreaves' international hopes.
However, those who know Hargreaves pointed out yesterday that he had overcome similar problems before the last World Cup and come through them to become England's player of the tournament.
“He was injured before the 2006 World Cup and he was England's best player in Germany. That may have been because he had plenty of rest,” said one source close to the player.
“Owen wants very much to be part of England and it is February now and the World Cup is not until June, so there is time. But the way Owen plays, he has to be fully fit, which might be the reason that he has not been included for the Champions League.”
Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to omit a man he paid Bayern Munich £17m for in the summer of 2007 would come as a blow to the Manchester United manager as well as the player.
A few days ago, Ferguson had talked about taking Hargreaves to Italy for the first leg of their Champions League encounter with Milan on February 16.
Hargreaves would not have played but it would have been a step forward in his rehabilitation from an injury that has seen him travel to Colorado to undergo treatment from the world-renowned surgeon, Richard Steadman.
He was then seen by Hans Muller Wolfahrt, his physio at Bayern Munich.
“Owen is alternating his training between the reserve and first-team squads, working for two days and then resting a day,” Ferguson said.
“It is a matter of him regaining his confidence and, when he is able to train every day, that will be the moment for him to return to match play.”
Confidence is a crucial issue for Hargreaves. Steadman had told him he would only know how successful the surgery to cure his tendonitis had been once he began playing regularly again.
His displays in the 2006 World Cup suggested that Hargreaves would become a fulcrum of the England midfield.
His last international was against the United States in May 2008 when he played alongside David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in a 2-0 victory.