Friday’s news that Manchester United midfielder Owen Hargreaves is set to make a comeback in the United reserves this week have provided a welcome boost for Sir Alex Ferguson. On the same day that Michael Owen was ruled out for the season through injury, Hargreaves’ imminent return could drastically improve United’s title chances.
The 29 year old England international has been out for 18 months and sought help from renowned specialist Dr Richard Steadman, who said the erosion in Hargreaves’ knee was the worst he had ever seen.
This is light at the end of the tunnel for United’s forgotten man, who has seen the boundless energy that he brings to the United midfield replaced by Darren Fletcher, who has impressed in the absence of the former Bayern Munich man. But what impact can Hargreaves have, both for United and England, if he can make the squad for South Africa?
Providing he can come through the reserve game against Man City unscathed, Hargreaves will take a while to regain form and match fitness. But he will be available in time for the business end of the season, or “squeaky bum time”, as Sir Alex likes to call it, and just in time to maybe edge out Chelsea for Premiership supremacy.
Hargreaves will provide fresh legs in the United midfield, where his boundless energy, work rate and expertise in the holding midfield role will be a valuable asset to United, especially with Anderson out for the season, and the likes of Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher all exhausted from playing so many games. Even if Ferguson refuses to break up his midfield to accommodate Hargreaves, his versatility allows him to fill United’s problematic right-back position, with Gary Neville past it, John O’Shea injured, Rafael’s poor defending and Wes Brown reportedly broke his foot in the win over Wolves and could miss the rest of the season.
Hargreaves’ return to fitness can only be good for United, but what about England? On ability alone, he can make the England squad for the World Cup, as one of the best players in his position in the country. But the injuries, combined with the established midfield pairing of Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard for England, mean that Hargreaves is a doubt for South Africa. Also, Hargreaves took part in none of the qualifying for the World Cup, and including him would be unfair to the likes of Carrick, Beckham and Milner, who are all fighting for a similar position in the England squad.
I believe that Hargreaves’ return will be good for United and England, as he will be approaching his peak condition when other players are exhausted after a long season. But what Hargreaves has left after all of the injury problems to his knee is up in the air, and there is always going to be a doubt whether he can stay fit and rediscover the form that persuaded United to spend £17 million on him in 2007.
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