Van Gaal says Rooney “not even close” to returning despite removal of brace

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Wayne Rooney was pictured without his knee brace for the first time since suffering a knee injury back in mid-February, giving fans hope that he could return soon after missing the last seven games across all competitions.

According to the Manchester United manager, those hopes are unfounded.

Louis Van Gaal said ahead of their FA Cup match against West Ham on Sunday, “He still has weeks to go. He is not close. I cannot say how many weeks, as you never know. It is a conservative healing what we are doing with the brace, not an operation or something like that.”

The news likely means that Rooney will not only miss the Europa League second leg against Liverpool on Thursday, but also the Manchester derby on Saturday against Manchester City, a match that could have massive Champions League implications next year. Rooney has already been ruled out of England friendlies during the international window at the end of March, although that doesn’t mean he won’t be fit by that time.

Rooney was just getting into a groove before his injury, picking up seven goals and three assists in the nine Premier League and FA Cup matches before going down.