With news breaking that central midfielder Owen Hargreaves is set for an imminent return to the reserves in the next week or so, there are bound to be smiles all round from the footballing community at large, but despite this warming news, quite how he’s still being touted as a potential World Cup hopeful is beyond me, and more fittingly is wholly unfair on those that have played for England throughout their successful qualifying campaign.
I think I’m right in saying that we’d all like to see Hargreaves tearing around the pitch again with the boundless energy that has become his staple, Man Utd have undoubtedly missed a player of his ilk and when fit and on form he’d probably be a starter in most people’s first choice England starting eleven’s. I’d put myself in this category, but despite this, he simply does not deserve to go to the World Cup.
Once a player who divided the opinion of the England faithful, he forged his reputation in our ultimate elimination to Portugal at the quarter-final stage of the 2006 World Cup tournament, as a willing runner when everything and everyone around he seemed lost. But this ignores the fact that he broke into Bayern Munich’s great side at the age of just 18 and went onto make the right-back role his own, you simply do not earn a position in one of Europe’s top clubs at that tender age unless you are exceptionally talented. But since his £18m transfer to champions Man Utd, he has failed to do his talking on the pitch quite so much being restricted to just 25 league appearances over the course of 3 seasons due to tendonitis in both knees.
The famed sports specialist Dr Richard Steadman has gone on record as saying that Hargreaves’ case of tendonitis is the worst he has ever seen in his thirty some years of practicing medicine. Whether he will ever reach the heights of his Bayern days remains doubtful and Hargreaves’ is certainly a player whose reputation has grown in his absence. Most fans see him as one of the game’s most destructive holding men and among the best in the world at his job, and whilst this may be true of Hargreaves in general, it has been some years since we have seen any evidence of this and for my money anyway, his best performances in a Utd shirt have come at right back.
His versatility is an attractive aspect that Capello seems to admire and had Hargreaves got fit in January or even earlier and been a mainstay in the Utd side there would be few to have begrudged him a place on the plane to South Africa but since he’s only returning to reserve team action now, in March, he’s simply too late and must be excluded for selection on grounds of a lack of playing time, being injury prone and the salient fact that to heap too much pressure on Hargreaves at such an early stage of his return would be not only disrespectful to those that have done his job in his absence but that it heaps unfair pressure on the man himself.
Ferguson spoke of Hargreaves’ fragile state of mind at a press conference last month and even alluded to mental problems affecting the player from returning to action, not injury alone. To place him in the spotlight is simply not the right thing to do for a player returning from a career damaging and confidence sapping lengthy absence such as his. I very much doubt Hargreaves would want the intense media spotlight that comes with an English World Cup crusade being on him at all and now he’s being seen as some sort of saviour in some quarters of the press, the answer to the lack of bite in England’s engine room, to expect anything from him at the moment is quite frankly expecting too much, he’s needs time to recuperate properly and most importantly slowly away from the media’s prying eyes so that he can be fully fit and raring to next season. Sentiment and blind faith are all that are keeping the Hargreaves bandwagon rolling. We’d all like him to be fully fit and firing on all cylinders, but he’s not and he won’t be, therefore the football betting news won’t see many punters looking at odds on Hargreaves leading England to World Cup glory.
Not only are expectations too high of him at this early stage of his comeback, announcing he needs to be taken to the World Cup without a shadow of a doubt is also a gross insult to those that have been ably performing the duties he may otherwise have been doing for both club and country in his absence. His 18 month lay-off is a long time in football and things have moved on. Darren Fletcher has risen to the occasion to now be an automatic pick in Utd’s first choice eleven and one of the first names on the teamsheet, the rise from widespread ridicule to widespread adoration is nothing short of a footballing miracle.
Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard have formed a functional and largely successful relationship in the heart of England’s midfield with Michael Carrick, James Milner, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham all regular’s in Capello’s squad capable of covering if an injury occurs to either of these two. The form of the likes of Scott Parker at West Ham, Tom Huddlestone at Spurs and Stewart Downing at Villa cannot be ignored either.
If Capello were to take Hargreaves to the World Cup it would contradict two of his main rules upon taking over as England head coach – there are not favourites and that he doesn’t pick injured of out of form players. To pick Hargreaves would be a in direct contrast to those rules and would make his words of a break from the past of McLaren and Sven and the birth of a tough new regime sound all the more hollow.
Hargreaves on ability alone is an England regular, much like Ledley King would be if his knees allowed him to train and play more often, but taking Hargreaves to the World Cup would smack of double standards and would not only be unfair to those that have plugged away all season long to try and play themselves into Capello’s World Cup plans, at this early stage it wouldn’t be fair on Hargreaves either, for to be asked to deal with a nation’s expectations whilst battling your own demons is a pressure I wouldn’t want to bestow on any professional…..oh alright, perhaps Gary Neville and Robbie Savage at a push, but an affable person such as Hargreaves, not a chance.