Saturday, 16 April 2011

What now for Owen Hargreaves?

Let’s make no mistake about it at the 2006 World Cup Owen Hargreaves was England’s best player. Spurred on by booing England fans, Hargreaves gave great performance after great performance to turn the fans opinion of him and by the end of the tournament he was one of the few England players to come out with an enhanced reputation, voted England Player of the Year by fans and later earned a £17 million transfer to Manchester United.

It’s a shame then that since that move to Manchester United, Hargreaves has been blighted with injury problems that has restricted him to just six minutes of play against Wolves in the past two seasons for United. After seeing specialist after specialist and suffering setback after setback in training and reserves games, it seems the most promising holding midfielder to come out of England since the early days of Paul Scholes, will soon be without a club in the summer and unlikely to find anyone to take him on long term.

Once upon a time in an England shirt Hargreaves looked like a young talent, hidden away by the Germans of Bayern Munich, able to keep possession of the ball, command a midfield and pick out a pass as well as pick his runs at goal. In Germany at the 2006 World Cup, Hargreaves turned the opinions of all England fans when he showcased his talents and the reason why then manager Sven-Goran Eriksson selected this unknown entity to play for his country.

His arrival to the Premier League as a United player was supposed to only further Hargreaves’ brilliance, only for it to end up as a tragic series of unfortunate injuries, a list so long in fact that Hargreaves has been restricted to just 26 appearances since joining in 2007, meaning Hargreaves has cost United over 650k per appearance. A hefty price to pay for any player, never mind one that was still unproven playing in England.

When you look at United’s squad now, a player like Owen Hargreaves could have made a real difference. Right now United look lost without the likes of Giggs and Scholes playing in the centre of midfield, with Carrick having seemingly lost all the abilities United bought him for, Fletcher sidelined and Gibson inconsistent. United have craved a technical and creative midfielder all season long, a player exactly like the Hargreaves of England at the 2006 World Cup, unfortunately for Ferguson then, that the Hargreaves situation has turned out the way it has.

The question remains however, what next for Owen Hargreaves? Manchester United looks unlikely to give him a contract extension. In fact they’d be mad to give it to Hargreaves another chance knowing full well how injury prone the player is. For United it would be better to cut their costs this summer when Hargreaves’ contract runs out. However where can he go? The old adage is that no-one who leaves United goes on to do well. Knowing that for Hargreaves it might be best to take a leaf out of Dean Ashton’s book and retire early and go into coaching or something. I would be very surprised if any club worth the player’s time offered him a long term contract, especially knowing his medical history. He’s been out of the game for nearly two seasons and even the best of players will show signs of lack of match practice and not to mention fitness.

Only time will tell where and when Owen Hargreaves, former England player of the Year and perhaps the last of the truly great English holding midfielders, finally ends his traumatic time at Old Trafford and Manchester.