How predictable that the two Manchester outfits should be making an early charge for Premier League glory. It’s not so predictable though that former England and United midfielder Owen Hargreaves is now part of City’s challenge. It’s crazy.
Not crazy that Hargreaves should be wanted by a top four club and certainly not crazy that Hargreaves should be unconcerned at upsetting hard-line fans who don’t react kindly to those who interlope within one of English football’s most fiercest rivalries.
After what he has endured with four years of injury anguish, you can’t blame him for crossing the United-City divide. His situation was so dire at one stage that he might have dreamed at just playing for one of the region’s lesser forces like Bury or Stockport such was his luckless destiny because of knee complications. Well, maybe he would not have envisaged that, but you get my drift.
I say ‘crazy’ because it’s City we’re talking about here. With their embarrassment of riches as far as their playing personnel is concerned, did they really need to squeeze in another central midfielder before transfer deadline day? I would say not. Roberto Mancini is like a spoilt child who goes into a toy store knowing his parents will buy him anything that takes his eye. Hargreaves was yet another toy to slot in with the rest.
The local media in the West Midlands was convinced that the man raised in Canada and developed by Bayern Munich was going to receive his second coming in the game with West Bromwich Albion. WBA manager Roy Hodgson had deliberated long and hard about whether to take the gamble on Hargreaves’ fitness and lack of matches over recent years but eventually offered a deal. We were, then, all stunned when City moved in late on.
On a normal match day, Mancini has the option of Gareth Barry, Yaya Toure and Nigel de Jong among defensive midfielders while there is also Samir Nasri, David Silva and James Milner among more attack-minded midfielders. And that’s not mentioning the likes of Adam Johnson and Zabaletta. Even in the bigger, stronger squads players still want to play. They don’t want to earn their £100,000 a week or whatever it might be warming the bench one week in every two, or worse still sit in the directors’ box without so much as a subs’ shirt.
Maybe, though, I’m being unfair to Hargreaves. Maybe he is just that good that he is well worth the punt. There was no transfer fee after all and probably no signing-on fee such is Hargreaves’ desperation and will to succeed again and prove he can still cut it at the top of the Premier League.
England’s display in Germany at the 2006 World Cup was as woeful as they have been more often than not post 1966 (1990 apart), but the performances of Hargreaves was one positive aspect to take from the tournament. He had started to shine above Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and even Golden Balls David Beckham himself, with his industry, his accurate passing and his tackling, vision and reading of the game. His injury cost England more than it did United.
Only time will tell whether Hargreaves will return to that standard. His goal from 20 yards, 17 minutes into his City debut in the Carling Cup, was possibly a slight indication that he is injury free and on his way back to where he was.
What we can say with any certainty is that this man deserves any success that should come his way now. The journey he has taken, often believing himself to be fit to restart another comeback only to break down again; that is enough to finish off most professional footballers, or sportspeople in general.
In cricket, Australian fast bowler Shaun Tait had to take a sabbatical from the game such was the mental and physical strain he felt in attempting to return from a chronic elbow injury. The pressure to sustain yet another a rehab programme and the constant daily routine of the treadmill, the weights, the cycling machine and the physio’s table must take its toll mentally when you don’t get to play at the weekend, having gone through the toughest of training drills beforehand.
All I would say is – to the television producers out there – please don’t force-feed me any more of that ‘grab’ that shows Hargreaves in his green leotard and headband on a kind of foot rolling star-jump machine which no doubt strengthens his groins. This was the famous image that Hargreaves apparently posted on youtube, to show all managers he was back. I could do without any more of that footage, thanks very much.
But seriously, he deserves his opportunity, even though it’s a peculiar one at City. It will be interesting to follow just how many games he does actually play there.
In hindsight he might regret not making the switch to West Brom, where he could have played more frequently eventually and been the new Bryan Robson, who graced that arena 30 years earlier – before he became an England and United legend.
Robbo also had terrific tenacity to fight back from broken legs, injured shoulders and even more than that recently, cancer. If Hargreaves can emulate that same Robbo spirit and grit and play some football, Mancini might not have made such a strange decision after all.