Heinze rues cost of World Cup dream

December 29, 2006

Manchester United defender Gabriel Heinze feels his mixed season so far may be the price he has paid for pushing himself to make last summer's World Cup.

Despite rupturing cruciate ligaments in the previous September, Heinze still forced his way into Argentina's squad for the finals in Germany.

The 28-year-old appeared in four of his country's five games as they were dumped out at the quarter-final stage by hosts Germany in a penalty shoot-out and returned to Manchester believing he was fully fit.

However, medical tests told another story and United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was forced to put the former Paris St Germain star on a personal fitness programme in an effort to increase his muscle strength.

Happily for Heinze, the punishing regime has worked, although he now finds himself behind much-improved Patrice Evra as Ferguson's first-choice left-back.

'I am not far off getting my full form back,' he told MUTV.

'I am happy that I am feeling better with myself but the important thing is that I am playing again.

'It is nice to put those fitness problems behind me. No-one likes that.'

Heinze's dedication to the Argentina cause first surfaced in 2004 when, despite having only signed for the Red Devils a couple of months earlier, he accepted an invitation to play at the Olympics.

The move worked out perfectly given Heinze collected a gold medal in Athens before belatedly joining United and producing a string of superb performances which eventually saw him crowned player of the year ahead of Wayne Rooney.

Although Ferguson admitted last season it would probably be better if Heinze did not go to the World Cup, there was never a question of him trying to stop the tough-tackling defender, although the player himself insists it was not a foolhardy move.

'There is nothing more important in a footballer's life than the chance to represent your country in such an important competition,' he said.

'But when I decided to represent my country at the World Cup, I didn't just do it with my heart. I gave it a lot of thought and used my head.

'It is normal to push yourself. I thought I was fine and when I came back I thought the injury had gone away. I suppose you tend to learn from these things.'

Heinze's second-half introduction against Wigan on Boxing Day was only his 10th Premiership appearance of the campaign.

However, with Ferguson promising changes, he could start tomorrow when Reading head to Old Trafford looking to follow up their surprise draw at Chelsea by taking more points off United, who were held on their visit to the Madejski Stadium in September.