DARREN FLETCHER'S career is hanging in the balance after Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed the Manchester United midfielder has still to come back from his chronic bowel complaint.
After struggling for months to combat the mystery virus, United eventually came clean over the extent of the Scot's problem back in December.
At the time, Scotland boss Craig Levein said he hoped his skipper would be fit to lead his country into their 2014 World Cup qualification campaign.
However, that is not going to happen, with Ferguson revealing that the 28-year-old has not even attempted a return to training yet.
He said: "Darren has not started training with us. Obviously he has got challenges and we are happy to be patient with him. But he won't be starting the season.
"It's unfortunate as he is such a magnificent professional and such a nice lad. If it doesn't work for him he knows he has a position at the club."
Fletcher, for the second part of last season, spent time on coaching duties that had been assigned to Paul Scholes.
Always one of the more studious members of the United squad, he does seem the type who would slot into a backroom role fairly comfortably once he has completed his coaching badges, which he has already started.
However, if he is forced to call time on his career, it would be a cruel way to end it.
Fletcher was restricted to just 10 appearances last term, his last coming against Benfica at Old Trafford in November.
He turned out just twice in the final weeks of the previous campaign, when the illness first took hold, costing him a chance of playing in a Champions League final after he missed out in 2008 and was suspended the following year.