Gardner out for season - but not for good

First published in Sport The Bolton News: Photograph of the Author by , chief football writer

RICARDO Gardner could still have a future with Bolton Wanderers, despite having been ruled out for the rest of the season following his latest injury setback.

The 33-year-old midfielder was omitted from the squad of 25 Owen Coyle registered for the second half of the season because the club’s medical staff could not guarantee that he would have recovered from surgery to correct a long-standing knee problem.

He could have undergone a minor procedure and been playing again in a matter of weeks, but it was decided the corrective surgery to clear the cartilage-related problem was the best chance of extending his career.

Gardner’s omission from the registered squad and the fact he will be out of contract in June has prompted speculation that this latest injury has ended his 14-season Reebok career.

But the Jamaican – second longest-serving member of the current Wanderers squad and a legend in his homeland – has a reputation for remarkable comebacks and the Reebok medical team have assured him he will be fit for the start of next season.

Whether that means he will be starting his 15th year on Wanderers’ books remains to be seen, but Coyle was looking no further than assisting him in his rehabilitation when he explained how the decision was taken – in conjunction with the player – to operate now.

“The doctor and the medical staff don’t think he’ll be able to play again before the end of the season,” the Bolton boss said.

“Those are his circumstances, so that’s what we had to do.

“He has a knee injury and it is a real shame for him. But the thing about it is that he’ll be able to come back and have a career.

“The decision was made – and Ricardo had a big part in that. We could have patched it up and he could probably have got away with a month here or there, but then he would be back to square one.

“It was important for him to get it done properly and make sure he still had a footballing career.”

Gardner made the latest of his 413 senior appearances for Wanderers in the 3-1 Premiership defeat at Swansea on October 29, when he was sent off for a second bookable offence. A thigh injury delayed his return before an investigation of a knee problem revealed he required corrective surgery, from which he is now recovering.

Although having been a key player in Wanderers’ success for more than a decade, the jet-heeled left-sider Colin Todd signed for £1million after being impressed by his performances for Jamaica at the 1998 World Cup has had a succession of niggling injuries to contend with in recent years which have restricted his appearances - just six this season and six last season when he also had a four-match loan spell at Preston.

When confronted with serious injuries, however, he has shown amazing powers of recovery. He twice made speedy and successful recoveries from cruciate knee ligament injuries - the first in the 1999-2000 season, the second in 2004 when, after suffering the injury in a Premier League game against Manchester United at the Reebok on January 7, he was back in first-team action on May 8.

If it transpires that this is his final season with Wanderers, there will be no shortage of clubs interested in recruiting such an experienced campaigner whose athleticism and versatility - he can play at left-back or in midfield - would make him a free transfer bargain.

However, leaving Wanderers would be a wrench for the kid from Harbour View. Last summer, after his previous contract expired, he rejected an offer to join his former boss Sam Allardyce at West Ham, preferring to sign a new one-year deal to stay at the Reebok.

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