Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is confident Darren Fletcher will be able to return to first-team action despite his ongoing battle with a bowel condition.
Fletcher's season was brought to a premature end after he underwent surgery on ulcerative colitis, a condition which saw him miss the second half of last season.
At the time it was feared that Fletcher would be forced to retire, but the Scotland midfielder was able to return to competitive action and made his first appearance in ten months in the Champions League victory over Galatasaray at Old Trafford in September.
Despite the optimism surrounding his return, Fletcher's last appearance came in the Premier League match against Newcastle on St Stephen's Day, but Ferguson believes his long-term prospects have improved because of his operation.
"This improves Darren's prospects of returning [to top form]," Ferguson told reporters on Friday.
"He had to change his game and he hasn't been the Darren Fletcher of three or four years ago in the games this season.
"Instead, he was sitting in front of the back four and he did well. That could be his role in the future. When he comes back, and I hope he does, it will be in a different role."
Although Fletcher's surgery was planned, Ferguson admits the loss of the midfielder is a blow to the club as they fight it out on three fronts.
"It was something we thought would happen anyway. He tried his best to cope with the condition with the treatments he was using but, in the last couple of weeks, it's come back," he added.
"This operation will hopefully solve the situation and we expect him to be back in July. It's a blow for the boy but given he's been dealing with the condition for a few years, it's just another step for him.
"He has fantastic character, he's a brilliant boy. He'll do his best, no doubt about that. He always does."