Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed he expects to welcome Ruud van Nistelrooy back for pre-season training on July 24.
The striker's Old Trafford future is open to severe doubt after his public bust-up with Ferguson at the back end of last season, which resulted in the 29-year-old being booted out of the team hotel by Ferguson prior to the final Premiership game of the campaign against Charlton and being told he was not welcome at Old Trafford for Roy Keane's testimonial the following week.
Bayern Munich have already expressed an interest in Van Nistelrooy, with Newcastle and Tottenham also apparently keen to sign the former PSV Eindhoven player, whose World Cup also ended on a low note when he was axed by Dutch coach Marco van Basten from the Holland side defeated in acrimonious circumstances by Portugal in the first knockout round.
Van Nistelrooy has been eager to seek talks on his United future with Ferguson, with most pundits confidently predicting his 150th goal for the club against Bolton in April will prove to be his last.
However, in revealing a staggered pre-season campaign, with his senior stars returning at different points in the summer, Ferguson has included Van Nistelrooy in those he expects to see again.
'In most cases (the players involved in the World Cup) have got a three-week holiday,' he told MUTV.
'The ones who will be reporting on July 24 after the knock-out stages are Gary Neville, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Gabriel Heinze, Edwin van der Sar and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Park Ji-Sung will be reporting back on July 18.'
It means that unless the situation changes, Van Nistelrooy will link up with Ferguson following United's forthcoming three-match tour of South Africa and could be involved in the friendly encounters with Celtic and Preston on July 26 and 29.
Ferguson's other `problem' player, Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo, is not due to return until seven days after Van Nistelrooy, although he too could be an ex-Red by the time United begin their Premiership campaign against Fulham on August 20.
Although most United fans are ambivalent about Ronaldo's contribution to England's World Cup exit, the 21-year-old's involvement in Wayne Rooney's dismissal in the quarter-final clash has left a sour taste, while the winger risks being turned into public enemy number one at English away grounds after being caught winking at his bench in reaction to his United team-mate's red card.
New Real Madrid coach Fabio Capello has welcomed Ronaldo's recent statement of intent to move to the Bernabeu, without actually saying he was willing to make a bid for the former Sporting Lisbon star, so Ferguson could yet be forced to ensure the fragile peace which now exists between Ronaldo and Rooney becomes a permanent truce.
With none of his World Cup stars part of his squad to tour South Africa, Ferguson will rely on a core of experience, including Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Wes Brown and John O'Shea, plus promising youngsters such as Giuseppe Rossi, Gerard Pique and goalkeeper Ben Foster.
Called onto Sven-Goran Eriksson's standby list prior to the World Cup, Foster now looks certain to spend the season as Edwin van der Sar's deputy rather than have his loan period extended with Watford, who he helped gain promotion to the top flight last term.
One man who will not be on the trip is Alan Smith, whose recovery from a broken leg is going well but he is not deemed fit enough to make the journey for a tour which includes games against the Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs in Durban and Cape Town respectively before a final encounter with the winner of a special match between the South African pair.
'Alan is doing very well and we are very pleased with the progress,' said Ferguson.
'But when he was injured in February we said he wouldn't play for six or seven months so he won't be back until the end of August, or early September.'