Thursday, February 4, 2010

Owen Hargreaves Finished? United Withdraw Him From Champions League Squad

Owen Hargreaves' hopes of a comeback this season have been dealt a major blow after Sir Alex Ferguson removed him from Manchester United's Champions League squad. It also means that the English international may not make the World Cup.

Hargreaves joined Manchester United from Bayern Munich in 2007 after the club's agreed upon a £18million deal, but has only played 25 games in the last three years as injury after injury has plagued the midfielder.
It has been that long since Hargreaves donned a red jersey; it is almost impossible to remember him as a player. As a midfielder he was blessed with a good engine and was a simplistic passer of the ball, letting the attack minded players instigate United's forward thrusts. Position-wise he was very defensive minded and was similar in type to Javier Mascherano in that he broke up attacks rather than directed them, providing good forward cover for his central defenders.
Before the start of this season, many United fans felt they would never see Hargreaves in a United jersey again, and this latest withdrawal by Alex Ferguson speaks volumes on how the Scot now views his midfielders chances this season.
By installing 21-year-old Belgian defender Richie De Laet in the squad, it would seem that Ferguson is not willing to take the risk on Hargreaves. It is unlikely that De Laet will be anything but distant cover against AC Milan, and it is worth noting that the youngster has only played three times since his transfer from Stoke City.
Since moving to United, Hargreaves' career has been blighted by his injury problems. Acute tendonitis has left him as a peripheral figure in Carrington, and he has spent much of the last 17 months on the treatment table. United's doctors have tried to diagnose the midfielders knee problems but have so far come up blank. Hence Hargreaves seeking other opinions in Europe and America with knee specialist Dr. Richard Steadman.
When Alex Ferguson named his initial squad for the group stages of the Champions League, there was great hope that Hargreaves would make an appearance. Being included in the squad was a great boost to not only the player, but United's fans too.
Manchester United's midfield problems are well known and the inclusion of the England international implied that a return to action was imminent. However, further problems restricted Hargreaves from training and now Ferguson's removal of the player could be construed as the final curtain coming down on Hargreaves' season.
Hargreaves only returned to training in January, and the fact that Manchester United did not move to sign a midfielder made it look as if he was about to return to the United engine room.
The transfer window closed at 17:00 on Feb. 1 and with it any chance of bringing in new players to Old Trafford. It means that United will have to make do with a midfield that has failed to reach the high standards set before it for the rest of the season.
The Champions League removal of Hargreaves will have further reaching consequenes though.
It now looks remotely distant that the player will make Fabio Capello's squad for the World Cup. As February rolls on, the withdrawal would suggest that it will be some time before Hargreaves will be considered for first team action, meaning that he will not have the time to build up the fitness or game-time needed for a World Cup campaign.
England were dealt a similar blow earlier this season when West Ham's centre forward, Dean Ashton, was forced to retire after a prolonged period on the rehabilitation table. The striker's ankle was shattered by a poor Sean Wright-Philips tackle ,while on international duty, and never recovered. The case will go to court in the near future as Ashton seeks compensation.
One other noteworthy point is that Hargreaves is out of contract in June 2011. Having only played 25 times since 2007 Ferguson's loyalty is admirable, but Manchester United face losing key players this summer, and the Red Devils boss will have to replace his midfielder sooner rather than later.
Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Edwin van der Sar, and Nemanja Vidic are all rumoured to be leaving United this summer through one exit route or another, either by transfer or retirement.
If Ferguson loses either Scholes or Vidic, the signing of a key midfielder with defensive skills will be paramount this summer. It has long been rumoured of a mass clear-out at Old Trafford at the end of the season and this latest move by Ferguson would suggest that Hargreaves days on the pitch Old Trafford are at an end.