Manchester - Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has suffered a setback in his bid to return from injury after being told he won't be fit again until the end of September.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had hoped Ferdinand would be back in action within four weeks as the England captain recovers following the knee injury he suffered just before the World Cup.
But Ferguson, speaking on Friday ahead of United's trip to Fulham on Sunday, has confirmed it will be closer to six weeks before the centre-back is available.
Ferdinand damaged his knee ligaments in a freak training ground collision with Emile Heskey during England's first training session in South Africa ahead of the World Cup.
The former Leeds and West Ham defender was forced to withdraw from Fabio Capello's squad and miss the finals after flying home for treatment.
He has been undergoing an intensive recovery process under the watchful eye of the United medical team, but Ferguson will have to manage without him for a little longer than he anticipated.
Ferguson said: "Rio will be out until the end of September. I think what happened was a complete accident. Things like that are just part of football, it was just one of those freak things.
"We just have to make sure he comes back in the proper way."
Meanwhile, there are growing concerns about the fact United striker Wayne Rooney has not scored for 13 games and is struggling to recreate the form he showed last season at domestic level, before he disappointed so badly in South Africa.
He was subdued again during United's 3-0 win over Newcastle on Monday and last scored against Bayern Munich in the Champions League in March.
But Ferguson is refusing to panic and insists Rooney will come good in the end.
He added: "We see this thing time and time again. Strikers live by their goals and when they don't come they wonder where the next one is coming from. And when they start scoring they think they cannot miss.
"Wayne is no different, but it's not an issue. He is fine."
Ferguson reported that France left-back Patrice Evra has shown no ill-effects following a collision with an advertising hoarding late in the win over Newcastle.
The Scot also believes an extra week's training will prove beneficial for the likes of Michael Owen and Michael Carrick, neither of whom were involved against the Magpies.
"It was difficult picking a squad on Monday because some players had not had a lot of time on the pitch," Ferguson said.
"They weren't at their proper match fitness but with an extra week's training behind them, they should be much better."