SHEFFIELD United have been left reeling over news that they will be without Gary Speed for the foreseeable future through a back injury which casts doubt about his return to football.
The 39-year-old had hoped to be fit for the Christmas games through rehabilitation but has now been advised to undergo surgery.
Blades Boss Kevin Blackwell said: "This is a massive blow to us. He has a bulge in one of his discs and the surgeon has recommended an operation to sort it out.
"The surgeon cannot operate until the first week in January and it could mean Speedo's season is finished.
"Depending on what the surgeon has to do will determine how long he will be out but it will be a minimum of two months or six to eight with rehabilitation which would effectively rule him out for the season.
"We don't know how it has come about but its chronic and in the last two weeks has crept up on him.
He added: "If the surgeon gets in and out without too much trouble it will mean he will recover quicker and Speedo may feel he wants to give it another go.
"If he is out for longer Speedo might decide that at 39 years old and a back injury that he doesn't want to keep going.
"But he has another year on his contract after this one and he is already doing some coaching with us."
Blackwell admits that Speed - who has been approached about the managerial vacancy at Swindon - will be hard to replace. He said: "He is a terrific professional. He is a leader and has managerial skills on the pitch. He recognises when to push buttons on the pitch to do things on the pitch at the right time. Now we need to find someone else.
"There has been contact from Swindon with Gary," Blackwell confirmed, "and I have told him that whatever he does is fine by me."
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