As has been well documented, Manchester United’s tenacious midfielder Owen Hargreaves has had more than the lion’s share of injury trouble. Signed from German giants Bayern Munich in May 2007, for a sum to the tune of £17 million, it is difficult not to sympathise with the Canadian-born, English-national, Welsh-eligible tough-tackler.
Heralded as the calm head to assist young guns such as Anderson, Darron Gibson and Darren Fletcher, Hargreaves arrived a year after being England’s shining light at an otherwise dull 2006 World Cup in Germany, hence the sizeable fee. In his first season, he helped guide United to Premier League and Champions League glory, after narrowly being eliminated in the latter rounds of the FA Cup. A great return for the coffers invested in him.
But the next season, his woes began. We would have to cast our minds back to the 1-1 draw with Chelsea in September 2008 for Hargreaves’s last injury-free start for United. Since then, he’s had chronic trouble with tendonitis in both knees and has repeatedly travelled to Colorado to work with renowned knee-surgeon Dr. Richard Steadman.
Suffering setback after setback, he was seen warming up before the Champions League final in May 2009, a 2-0 battering by Barcelona in Rome. Would he feature? He did not, nor did he until a cameo appearance against Sunderland in the penultimate match of last season, where he played the final seconds.
Then, in his recent comeback against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Hargreaves was granted a starting berth. Seen as an ideal chance for Sir Alex Ferguson to ease him back into the first-team, the Stretford End waited with baited-breath as the number 4 took to the field. But he lasted just six minutes after he damaged a hamstring as, according to his manager, he was “anxious”.
With his contract due to expire at the end of the current campaign, the press has begun to speculate whether United will renew it. Hargreaves will be the wrong side of 30 in January, he’s been plagued with injury for his entire career and United are beginning to bring through central midfielders who could oust him (Darron Gibson and the promising Matty James to name two).
But that would surely be harsh. For a player who has continuously battled through an injury hell and has repeatedly declared how, inevitably, he is frustrated with injuries (as well as his knee troubles, at Bayern he also broke a leg and tore his calf and thigh), Hargreaves is still a valuable asset. When fit, he can be the engine and dynamism that United have sorely lacked this season.
After the tragic cases of West Ham striker Dean Ashton (who recently retired after failing to recover from a broken ankle suffered in August 2007), we have seen how the career of a footballer can easily and swiftly be curtailed. Seen as one of the game’s friendly characters, one would hope Hargreaves doesn’t suffer the same fate.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.