David O'Leary has moved quickly to quash any rumours that Martin Laursen's career is over.

The Villa manager confirmed yesterday afternoon that his 28-year-old Denmark international would not kick a ball again this season after an operation on his troublesome knee on Wednesday.

Laursen has been dogged by injuries ever since his arrival at Villa Park just over 12 months ago and has only started 11 games in his Villa career.

The problem originated just three games into last season when a knee injury flared-up and he struggled through a seven-month lay off before making a goalscoring return against Middlesbrough.

It was hoped a summer of rehabilitation and recuperation would finally cure the persistent problem but it became apparent that Laursen was in pain during Villa's first game of the season against Bolton.

He hasn't appeared in a claret and blue shirt since and sought solace with renowned surgeon Dr Richard Steadman in Colorado, where he underwent his operation.

It is a crushing blow for both the player and O'Leary, but he refuted any suggestions that Laursen was effectively finished at Villa Park.

"People will ask me if Martin is finished and I can only go on the conversation I had with our physiotherapist Alan Smith and that wasn't

the case in any way," confirmed O'Leary.

"It wasn't a call to say: 'He's finished'. The way it sounded to me was as though he'll definitely be back playing, but not for a long time.

"There's no time scale on it and I can't say when he'll be playing again, but he won't be back this season. "He's done well when he's played but he hasn't played enough. "It was something I was aware of and it was in the back of my mind in the summer that he may be out long term because he didn't look right."

Laursen's absence will only intensify O'Leary's search for a centre-half.

He has been chasing a commanding central defender for over a year and is a known admirer of Chelsea's Robert Huth. The German international has intimated recently that he might have to leave Stamford Bridge in order to play regular first- team football and pursue his World Cup dream next summer.

O'Leary won't name any of his potential targets but confessed that he would still be pursuing a centre-half, even if Laursen was still available.

"Laursen being out now doesn't change anything, as the desire was there to strengthen the defence anyway.

"It's brought it out in the open more - and further proof that we need someone because he won't be back in a couple of months.

"The desire's been there, without a doubt, and this bad news hasn't changed a thing for me."

"Gavin McCann is also very doubtful for Saturday's game with Tottenham and I'd be very surprised if he plays," continued O'Leary.

"He's got a dead leg and aggravated his knee again as well. It's the same knee where he had problems before."

It is unclear yet whether McCann will need an exploratory operation on his knee but O'Leary was still prepared to loan out young Peter Whittingham to Derby.

The England Under-21 international had been a regular fixture in the Villa side before being left out of the team that succumbed 4-0 against West Ham on Monday.

It is a three-month deal with a 24-hour callback clause after the first month expires and Derby manager Phil Brown revealed how O'Leary finally gave him the all-clear this week.

"I went to watch Peter Whittingham play at Manchester City reserves on Tuesday night and he is a player I have admired for a long time," said Brown.

"He has played around 60 Premier League games and I am always asking to bring Premier League mentality players into Derby County.

I think Peter Whittingham presents that Premier League mentality, but he isn't getting his chance at Aston Villa at present and, having had a chat with David O'Leary at the reserve game, he said I could take him.

"I am pleased to have him on board, as I think he can play in two or three positions.

He can operate either on the left hand side of midfield in a four or a three, in the front line in a three, or possibly at left-back.

"I think he is a player with the right type of credentials to improve our squad," Brown added.