Fulham fear Mahamadou Diarra could be ruled out for the majority of the season, manager Martin Jol has admitted.
Jol revealed the potential extent of the injury Diarra suffered making his return from international exile with Mali this month. The 31-year-old, who had not played for his country for more than a year, damaged his left knee and was forced to miss Fulham's 2-0 Barclays Premier League win over West Brom last weekend.
Jol confirmed on Thursday afternoon that Diarra required some form of surgery and would miss at least another three weeks. But if it transpires he has damaged his cruciate ligament, he could be out for up to five months.
Jol, who was expecting to learn the true extent of the damage next week, said: "There's a little piece of cartilage floating in his knee, so we have to operate that in any case, and that can be three or four weeks.
"But if there is damage to his cruciate ligament, for example, it will take a lot longer. It will take him three, four, five months at least."
That would be a huge blow to Fulham, whose lack of cover in midfield was demonstrated by the signing of Greece veteran Giorgos Karagounis after the transfer window closed.
That followed the summer departures of the likes of Clint Dempsey, Mousa Dembele, Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu.
Jol was forced to play defender Chris Baird alongside Steve Sidwell in midfield against West Brom and will do so again in Saturday's game at Wigan.
The Dutchman added: "Hopefully, we will stay fit. The advantage is that we don't have to play in Europe.
"But if Bairdy or Sidwell would get an injury then we could end up with a slight problem."