Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar has been granted indefinite compassionate leave after his wife suffered a brain hemorrhage, manager Sir Alex Ferguson said.
The 39-year-old former Dutch international, who has been absent since last month’s win over Everton with a knee injury, is still regarded as United’s No. 1 choice goalkeeper ahead of Thomas Kuszack and Ben Foster when he is fit.
Van de Sar had returned to the Netherlands over Christmas to receive treatment from the national team doctor.
But his 36-year-old wife Annemarie van Kesteren collapsed last Wednesday as Van der Sar and his young family were preparing to celebrate Christmas and the goalkeeper has been granted permission to stay away from Manchester.
Ferguson said: “Annemarie had a problem over in Holland a week ago and has been admitted to hospital. That is the best place for her to be. They have examined her twice and are trying to get to the root of it.”
“I have told Edwin to stay over there. There is no point in him being here. The best thing is for him to be with his wife. Hopefully she will make a good recovery,” he said.
On the field, Ferguson is convinced that although his side and league leaders Chelsea are seen as the two dominant sides in the Premier League, teams much lower down the table still believe they have a chance of winning the title this season.
If United beat Wigan today, they will close the gap on Chelsea to just two points and only 10 points separate the top five sides.
“It is so tight, when you see it grouped up like that, even teams as low as eighth will think ‘maybe we can do it this year’ and football is like that,” Ferguson said.
“It gives you an optimism that might not be realistic but you should be optimistic about your chances,” he said.
“It is that kind of league at the moment which has been lacking a consistent team that can win a few on a row,” the Scot said.
When United last played Wigan in August, they comprehensively outclassed the Lancashire side to win 5-0 at the DW Stadium.
Yet Wigan have beaten Aston Villa and Chelsea this season to underline that they are a stronger side than their lowly league position of 15th suggests and Ferguson is determined not to underestimate today’s visitors to Old Trafford.
“I know we have a good record against Wigan but you have to respect the victories they’ve had against Chelsea and Aston Villa this season and they play football,” he said.
“That’s the way [manager] Roberto Martinez wants his team to play. He’s got a good philosophy so it should be an entertaining match. I’m pleased we’ve got center backs back and it makes a difference for us,” Ferguson said.
United have indeed been buoyed by the return of Wes Brown and Nemanja Vidic — two recognized central defenders — although they are still missing the likes of Rio Ferdinand, John O’Shea and Jonny Evans.