Ferguson: Hargreaves must focus on club
Sir Alex Ferguson told Owen Hargreaves to forget about the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ and concentrate solely on Manchester United after the midfielder returned to action following an 18-month absence in a reserve team game against Burnley at Altrincham.
Hargreaves completed 45 minutes of the 2-0 win and, while it was not the most physical of tests, he did enough to put himself in line for another appearance with the second string against the same opposition at Accrington next week.
Given his previous status as one of the Three Lions' most influential midfield men, it is little wonder talk has immediately turned to Hargreaves' chances of being fully fit before Fabio Capello picks his squad for South Africa 2010.
In fairness to the 29-year-old, he responded in a rather non-committal way, although he did confirm that if he made sufficient progress and the call from Capello did come, he would relish the chance to appear on the FIFA World Cup stage once more, having been voted England's player of the tournament in 2006. But Ferguson has quickly stamped on those ambitions.
After spending £18m to lure the midfielder to England from Bayern Munich in 2007 and having been rewarded with only 37 appearances before Hargreaves headed to Colorado for surgery on both knees to try and cure a chronic tendinitis problem, Ferguson clearly believes the player's first duty is to his club.
"We deserve some service from out of him," said Ferguson. "Talk about World Cups? He has been out for a year and a half. There is nothing wrong with talking about it, but he should be concentrating on playing for Manchester United."
In fact, Ferguson already has a comeback plan in place for a Hargreaves who, although he is not entitled to play any part in the Red Devils' UEFA Champions League campaign, could have a major role in the title run-in.
"I am delighted for him," said Ferguson. "He has been out of the game for 18 months, which is very difficult.
"He will need a couple of games more with the reserves. After that he should be back in the first-team squad. It is a good one to get at this time of the season."
Although the England talent still experiences an element of discomfort from the injury, Ferguson feels he can use the example of captain Gary Neville - who was sidelined for even longer by a succession of muscular complaints and went on to make a successful return - as proof the battle can be won.
"We had experience of this long interval without playing with Gary Neville," said Ferguson. "Owen has the advantage of being a younger man. Hopefully now he is back for a continued period."