Former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson’s decision to include Canadian-born midfielder Owen Hargreaves in his 2006 World Cup squad was widely criticised by Three Lions supporters who rather harshly continued to ask, ‘What does this player actually bring to the national side?’.
At the time, the Daily Telegraph’s respected football correspondent Henry Winter also commented that the anchorman could ‘count himself lucky to be on board’, with Hargreaves having failed win support for a squad place in his 29 appearances for England heading to the tournament in Germany. Hargreaves also suffered having never played in the Premier League, something which England fans peculiarly found difficult to accept.
Hargreaves was viewed as an outsider by some fans who often shouted abuse at the former Bayern Munich star and even booed him off the field on occasion. Hargreaves’ German roots led to distrust amongst England fans and the player unfairly began to represent the lack of technical skill and dynamism in the country’s often turgid midfield. If the tough tackler had been injured over this period it is unlikely that his absence would have been viewed as a major blow to the Swede’s World Cup hopes.
This view soon changed following the Canadian’s performances at the 2006 World Cup where he was voted England’s best player and the Man of the match as Eriksson’s side crashed out on penalties to Portugal. Hargreaves was considered a minor success story following another World Cup in which England failed to deliver. Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was soon assessing the player’s situation at the Allianz Arena in Germany and secured Hargreaves’ signature for £17m in May 2007.
The Theatre of Dreams soon turned into a nightmare for Hargreaves despite winning a Champions League & Premier League double during his first season at United. Hargreaves was a key component of the side that defeated Chelsea in Moscow in 2008, but since that memorable night he has made just four appearances for the 18 time league champions. Chronic tendonitis in both knees has kept Hargreaves sidelined for over two years and this has cost him arguably the best years of his career.
How England missed the star’s defensive prowess and calm influence at South Africa this summer as the unfit Gareth Barry was left chasing German shadows that revelled in the space afforded to them by Fabio Capello’s puzzled midfield. Manchester United could have also done with the player’s disciplined approach against Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League final, with Spanish stars Andres Iniesta and Xavi pulling the strings freely from midfield to help their side to a 2-0 win.
Having battled his way back to full fitness Hargreaves is now ready to compete again for a place in the United first-team after impressing manager Sir Alex in training. The Scotsman revealed:
“Hargreaves has come back training; he has trained with the first team. He looked very good. I was surprised actually how good he was looking.
“It’s an extra string to our bow, bringing him in at this time.
“That’s the first thing on our mind at the moment but having watched him in training yesterday if he continues that way he’s going to give me another selection problem, no question about that.”
Hargreaves will be keen to make up for lost time when he returns to Premier League action and, providing he proves his fitness, the former Bayern star could yet become a key-member of the United side and finally show the Premier League what they have been missing.