Trudging off down the Old Trafford tunnel after completing less than 5 minutes against Wolves on Saturday, it was hard not to feel sorry for Owen Hargreaves. Making only his second appearance since September 2008 for Manchester United, his other being a 93rd minute introduction against Sunderland towards the tail-end of last season, Hargreaves pulled up, having just crossed from the right, holding his hamstring. Having made only 39 appearances in all competitions over four seasons for Manchester United, and with his contract up for renewal next summer, is it time for Hargreaves to call it a day, or can the 29 year-old force his way back, not necessarily into United’s team, but into football in general?
The forlorn figure, clutching his hamstring, framed by the Old Trafford tunnel, can be placed in stark contrast to the man who was a star performer for England at the 2006 World Cup. His performances that summer in Germany secured his £17m transfer from Bayern Munich to Manchester United in July 2007, and all seemed to be going well, with Hargreaves regularly starting in a team that went on to win both the Champions League and Premier League in his first season at the club. Problems began to occur, however, when, at the start of the 2008-09 season, the England midfielder decided to get a recurring knee problem operated on, and has barely been seen on a football pitch since.
With Sir Alex Ferguson coming out and stating that he thinks Hargreaves’ problem may, in fact, be more mental than physical, this is a worrying sign. It is one thing coming back from a long term injury in terms of being physically fit, but it is an entirely different entity coming back and being psychologically ready. Perhaps Hargreaves should take a leaf out of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s book.
The Manchester United legend was also blighted by injury, and, like Hargreaves, Sir Alex Ferguson stood by him throughout his recuperation. But eventually the Norwegian succumbed to his fragile physical state, and is now employed elsewhere at the club, as the reserve team manager. Having signed his last contract as a player with the club in 2006, Solskjaer, knowing his days as a player were numbered, stipulated in it that he wanted to develop his coaching awards with the club and made his move into reserve team management in the summer of 2008. So with his 30th birthday fast approaching and his contract at United running out in the summer, should Hargreaves follow Solskjaer into coaching?
It is highly unlikely that Ferguson will offer Hargreaves a renewed contract unless he can prove his fitness, and fast. So if he was that way inclined, and wanted to remain at Old Trafford, signing a short-term contract with a view to complete coaching badges would be a deal that should satisfy both parties. The dilemma for Hargreaves is perhaps a similar one that Kieron Dyer faces at West Ham; if their parent clubs aren’t going to offer them a new contract, will they pass a medical at another side?
Although Hargreaves may wish to continue playing football, he has to think realistically about his options and critically assess his own ability to continue playing, both mentally and physically. Despite having not featured over the last two seasons, he will be a great loss to both Manchester United and England, and with his experience, he could yet serve both club and country very well by taking the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer route into coaching.