Owen Hargreaves had a phenomenal début season for Manchester United, contributing heavily to the second most successful season in our club’s history, winning the league title and European Cup. The moments that stand out of him are probably the penalty against Chelsea in the Champions League final and the freekick against Arsenal in the league on the day it felt like we had won the title. It wasn’t just the measurable things like goals and assists that made the fans warm to him, but his work rate too.
Hargreaves made his début at Wastelands in a 1-0 defeat but he was the silver lining that day. He was no Roy Keane but he was the closest we’d come to signing someone that important to the midfield since our former skipper’s departure. From then on, whether in the centre of the park or at right back, or even on the right wing, Hargreaves really gave his all and looked to be a cracking player.
It was all downhill for him from there though and he has spent the past three years on the treatment table. The club have stood by him throughout this time, obviously paying his wages and for his treatment. The manager’s patience grew thin with the player as he insisted on trying out his own treatments and spending a lot of time away from the club.
After hobbling off in his last ever United game against Wolves last season, doing his calf and hamstring, he then dislocated his shoulder in a Reserves game. Hargreaves himself acknowledged that fans were right to claim he was made out of glass.
He claims he offered to stay at the club and play for free this season, so desperate was he to stay at United. “Manchester United is a wonderful club,” he said in an interview last week. United turned down his offer, with plans to bring through younger players in to the team. The manager has been true to his word, fielding teams with an average age of 22/23-years-old. Hargreaves would be occupying the place in the squad that could be used on playing a young lad.
Hargreaves also claimed that he wanted to sign for a club where he would play 40 games this season. With Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and West Brom all keen to sign him, it looked as though there might be some hope of him making a come back, however unlikely it seemed.
So to then find out yesterday that Hargreaves was intending to sign for City, a club looking for a player to cover Yaya Toure’s absence in January, is hard to understand.
Whilst I understand he’s free to join whichever club he likes after United made the decision to let him go, I don’t think our fans would be out of order to expect him not to join our hated rivals after our club has spent three years paying his way. Throughout this time, we’ve been urging him back, getting ridiculously hopeful every time he claimed he was ready, only to have another set back. It’s not about loyalty in the sense that we expect him to be some dyed in the wool United fan, but about having a bit of common decency and respect. United losing patience with him after three years doesn’t warrant him throwing the money, care and good will back in our faces.
The second issue is the fact that if he cares so little for money, as he claimed in his interview, even being willing to play for United for free, why is he signing for The Richest Club In The World (TM) where he won’t get a game? Like most United fans, I’ve felt really sorry for him these past few years, as he’s missed the peak of his career out injured. I felt even worse for him when he released by the club. But what a waste of emotions. You would think any professional footballer would be desperate to get on the football pitch after three years out. If Hargreaves is going to manage be fit, how many games can he realistically get at City? He turns 31 this season, so even if he does manage to beat the injury, he’s never going to be as good as he was.
Of course, City have Champions League football and that should be a pull to players like Aguero, Clichy and Nasri, who can realistically expect to be in the starting XI or there abouts. But why would playing in Europe make a difference to Hargreaves? City are going to drop Nigel De Jong or Yaya Toure for Hargo are they?
If Hargreaves does have 40 games in him this season, like he claims, why choose to join a club where he would be lucky to play in half that many? You would think he would be desperate to make up for lost time, when in reality, it turns out he’s just like all those other mercenaries, happy to warm a bench. He is their new Patrick Vieira, who started just four league games last season.
“SHOCK! HORROR! Footballer in new mercenary scandal!” I know it isn’t a big deal to find out that a player is money hungry and sadly, yet again, I’ve been naive. I just had an idea of what Hargreaves was like as a player and wasted sympathy on him for his time out. But if he really cared about playing regular football after so long out, he’d have given Spurs (5th last season), Villa (9th) or West Brom (11th) a go. All clubs would have offered him a pay per play deal. You would be right to assume City will pay him more per play than any club interested.
I wished him well when I talked about his most recent interview. It goes without saying I now totally revoke that. I’m not outraged, I’m not devastated, but I am disappointed. I thought better of him, both in terms of his dedication towards the game and just being a man of common decency and respect, so it is disappointing to learn I had him wrong. He wasn’t a club legend and he’s tarnished how he will be remembered, but essentially, he was desperate to stay at United and we turned him down. But I won’t shed a tear if Vida snaps him on derby day.