Alex Ferguson is confident Darren Fletcher will return to play an important role for Manchester United despite undergoing surgery for a career-threatening bowel condition.
The 28-year-old Scotland captain will miss the rest of the season following an operation to alleviate the ulcerative colitis that has dogged him for the best part of two years.
United manager Ferguson revealed Friday that Fletcher's condition had taken a turn for the worse recently, but he expects the midfielder to continue his fight against the ailment once he can return to action ahead of the 2013/14 season.
"This is something we thought would happen (at some stage) anyway," Ferguson said. "He tried his best to cope with the condition with the treatments he was using, but in the last couple of weeks it's just come back again.
"Hopefully this operation solves the situation in terms of his career in the game and we expect him to be back in July.
"It's a blow for the boy, but given that he's been dealing with the condition for a couple of years now it's just another step towards something very important -- firstly, his health and secondly, his career.
"He'll need time to recover, it will be quite a while. But he's a fantastic character, an absolutely brilliant boy, and he will do his best -- he always does."
Fletcher attempted to play through his illness, which was eventually revealed in December 2011 after the club had earlier cited a mystery virus as the reason for his absences.
He returned to the United first team in September after 10 months out of the game, while revealing in November he was still struggling with his health.
Nevertheless, the Old Trafford midfield enforcer has made 13 appearances this season, the last as a substitute in the 4-3 win against Newcastle on December 26.
Ferguson, who always believed that Fletcher's suspension from the 2009 Champions League final was instrumental in Barcelona's victory, sees him in more of a holding role when he does come back.
"I felt he had to change his game," the United manager explained. "When he played in games this season, he wasn't the Darren Fletcher of three or four years ago.
"We started using him in front of the back four, which he did very well, and that could be his real role in the future.
"Some of his performances were very good. So I'm sure that when he comes back -- and I'm sure he will -- it will be in a different role."
Meanwhile, Ferguson extended his sympathies to Nigel Adkins, the latest Premier League managerial casualty after being sacked by Southampton on Friday.
The south coast club have improved of late, moving out of the relegation zone and earning an unexpected point in a 2-2 draw against European champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday
Ferguson, the longest-serving manager in the Premier League, having arrived at Old Trafford in 1986, said: "It's a crazy world. I find it hard to believe.
"He (Adkins) got a great result at Chelsea after being 2-0 down. But there's no point in saying I'm surprised. Strange things happen in football, but it does seem unfair."