Manchester United have said Rio Ferdinand may be fit for the opening game of the 2010/11 season against Newcastle despite reports he could face several months on the sidelines after suffering a knee ligament injury in the build-up to the World Cup.
United confirmed yesterday that Ferdinand would be ready to play again 10 weeks after sustaining the injury in England's first training session of their disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa.
That would put him in line to play in the opening fixture against Newcastle at Old Trafford or away to Fulham the weekend after.
The man who is still nominally England captain described last season, in which he started just 19 matches, as “the worst of my career.”
Given England's need for new blood, his international position is not certain and there have been signs that his club manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has been hunting around for cover in central defence.
Ferdinand's usual partner, Nemanja Vidic, has yet to give any clear assurances on whether he intends to remain in Manchester, especially given the interest shown in him by Jose Mourinho's new regime at Real Madrid and his wife's reported desire to move to Spain.
However, while United possess excellent cover in the shape of 23-year-old Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans, Ferdinand's injury record at 31 is a cause for concern, hence the signing of Fulham's Chris Smalling and his interest in Bolton's Gary Cahill.
The former was not a regular starter at Craven Cottage but Cahill's manager, Owen Coyle, described his player as the best centre-half in England, whom he recommended without success that Fabio Capello take to South Africa.
At 24, Cahill is the right age to fit in with Ferguson's policy of only bringing young players to Old Trafford and at £15m he is likely to come at an affordable price.
Ferdinand is unlikely to feature on United's USA tour that leaves three days after a World Cup final that before a tackle with Emile Heskey in training he had hoped to lead his country into.
Ferguson has said that nobody from the club who took part in the World Cup will travel on the five-date tour, which would rule out Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney and probably Nani, who was sent home by Portugal suffering from what purported to be a shoulder injury, although there had been speculation that there were disciplinary reasons involved.