Hargreaves could return in four weeks

Sir Alex Ferguson has backed Owen Hargreaves to return to action within four weeks.

The Manchester United midfielder has not played for over a year after undergoing surgery on both knees. He has been plagued by a tendonitis problem since his £18 million transfer from Bayern Munich in 2007, and at the beginning of last season was sent to renowned US knee specialist Dr Richard Steadman.

Earlier this week Hargreaves returned to the Red Devils’ Carrington training ground to continue his rehabilitation, and Ferguson is optimistic that the England international will be back on the pitch next month.

"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," explained the United boss.

"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."

Ferguson has also drawn comfort from the growing number of players that are recovering from similar injuries. The latest is Chelsea's Joe Cole, whose midweek appearance in the Carling Cup was the midfielder’s first since January.

"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.

"He is not kicking a ball yet. The physio who attended to him over there will stay here for a week for the changeover.

"He and our physios are discussing exactly at what stage he is at but he should be into football training quite soon."