With grim predictability, injury has brought a premature end to Michael Owen’s season.
The former England striker scored United’s opening goal in the League Cup final victory over Aston Villa, only to succumb to a hamstring complaint that required his substitution.
Owen has now been told that he must undergo surgery.
The striker said: "I have loved every minute of my first campaign with Manchester United and have already enjoyed some memorable moments. I am determined to come back at the start of next season in peak condition."
The manager put on the bravest of faces too when asked for his thoughts on Owen’s latest injury blow.
"Unfortunately, it's more serious than we thought," Ferguson said. "It's a terrible blow for the lad and disappointing news for us, too. He has never missed a training session all season. I think the heavy pitch at Wembley on Sunday made some contribution to it but really it is just bad luck."
While the Wembley pitch might be a bog fit only for the sowing of potatoes, it is also true that Owen has suffered terrible misfortune yet again and it is poor form to kick a man when he faces an operation and weeks of therapy and rehabilitation.
But, with some justification, there will be a chorus of “I told you so” should United stumble this season due to a lack of goals, especially with the club’s former striker Carlos Tevez on a hot streak at Manchester City.
Owen’s latest trouble is but a new chapter in a familiar story of physical failing and disappointment which have dogged the player for years. The former European Footballer Of The Year may protest, but his pleas will fall on deaf ears when made from a hospital bed.
Like Liverpool’s signing of Aquilani, United were forewarned that Owen’s physical condition posed a risk to effective team planning.
Wigan Athletic’s chairman, Dave Whelan, knifed the ex-England international when he announced early last summer that Owen’s injury record made his transfer too great a risk.
Nevertheless, Sir Alex hoped he could defy the odds and brought the former Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Newcastle player to Old Trafford.
Until then, it had been thought that Owen would wind down his career at the likes of Hull or Stoke.
The manager appeared to have been swayed by Owen’s considerable track record as a goal sniffer and by the salutes to his robust constitution contained in the "come and get me" dossier which Owen published upon his departure from Tyneside.
There were jokes then about the dangers of Fergie’s “catalogue shopping.”
Now the injured Owen is no laughing matter.
Wayne Rooney, who has carried United’s hopes this season, is suffering with his knee. Rest, probably the best cure, is unlikely given the unavailability through injury of Owen and the reserve Macheda.
The manager can no longer call upon Danny Wellbeck this term. The youngster, once tipped by Sir Alex to force his way into the England World Cup party, is now on loan at Preston, his star fading after a string of clueless performances when played out of position in the United first team.
Mame Diouf, a new recruit from the Norwegian club Molde, is likely to get more game time. But against the Wolves last weekend, he looked at best inexperienced and at worst, a clumsy innocent with an alarming potential to be United’s Benjani.
That leaves Sir Alex sweating on the form and attitude Dimitar Berbatov, another striker suffering with a knee knack.
No one doubts the Bulgarian’s technical ability. Rather, it is the striker’s application and end product that raise concerns.
Berbatov has scored only nine goals this season. Worse, he appears to be something of a flat track bully, producing his most lethal displays against weaker teams. The Bulgarian failed to trouble the statisticians in the three Champions League games in which he was selected but did score against Everton, Wigan, Stoke, Sunderland, Blackburn, Hull, Burnley, and Portsmouth.
This is not the form to frighten United’s future domestic opponents—Chelsea, Liverpool Manchester City and Spurs—nor is likely to worry the remaining European teams in this year’s Champions League tournament, should AC Milan be overcome.
No one can blame Owen for the difficulties that might await United. For that, the finger should be pointed at those who created the circumstances which left Sir Alex ready to gamble on a player who rightly or wrongly, has become better known for his injuries than his goals.
The manager has admitted that he found it hard to field Rooney and Owen together, given their similarities in stature and the way each likes to play. This is a failure of planning and a tactical mistake that any number of videos would have exposed.
It is hard for United to dodge the accusation that Owen was signed because he was the cheapest option available. All he costs the club is wages and bonuses.
With some £720 million debt to concentrate minds, United did not want to spend £50 million in fees and salaries to keep Tevez and plumped for Owen as a player with the profile to placate the media and one who might get the club out of a hole.
Despite Owen’s winner against City and the hatrick against Wolfsburg, the plan can hardly be deemed a success.
United’s debt chickens could come home to roost if the team, struggling for fit and in form strikers, runs out of goals as it plays for honours at home and abroad.
Last July, Owen bristled with barely concealed fury as he fielded questions from the press about his injury record.
"If there is one thing that has angered me a bit it is this thing that I am 'injury-prone,'" Owen said. "You constantly read 'he's been plagued with injuries' and things like that but the facts just don't support it."
What do you say now, Michael?