Owen Hargreaves joined Manchester City on a free transfer on the final day of the transfer window this summer after being released by Manchester United at the end of last season. A surprising move for the few Football fans around who noticed the move, but also a disappointing one for Manchester United fans. Owen Hargreaves has had a less than unfortunate run of injuries over the past three years, and no one could have believed with all his injury problems that he would be back playing football again.
His injuries had plagued his time at Old Trafford. He joined Manchester United in the summer of 2007 from Bayern Munich (where he had spent his entire career previously) and contributed immensely during his first season there by helping the club achieve a Premier League and Champions League double. One of the rare English players to commence his career in another league, his return back home was one that was appreciated by most English supporters and especially by Manchester United supporters who believed they finally found the natural successor to Roy Keane. However, the love story stopped right there.
It was at the start of his second season, 2008-2009, that Hargreaves’ injury problems became his worst nightmare. A knee injury called “Patellar tendinitis” kept him out of the game for over two years. It’s the sort of injury that inflates your knee by overusing it (I don’t know if that’s a sign of how much effort Hargreaves used to put in while playing, or how weak his knees were – I would believe it’s the former). He underwent surgery several times with knee specialist Richard Steadman, the doctor responsible for saving the careers of many athletes, and even Steadman admitted that in his 35 years of handling knees that he had never witnessed a case like Hargreaves. Time after time, having battled through his injuries on his way to fitness, he’d get injured again. Every single time he would be on the brink of a return, his knee would blow again. For United fans and for Hargreaves it was frustrating, especially as he was a player that would be perfect in United midfield.
I was at Old Trafford in November 2010, when Wolves were the visitors and what was supposed to be the fairytale comeback for the Canadian-born midfielder. Once his name was announced in the line-up the whole stadium cheered and sang his name, as Hargreaves, for all his injury worries, was very much loved by the Old Trafford faithful. In that game however, he suffered what proved to be the final blow in his Manchester United career as that was his final game for the club. A hamstring injury within six minutes of his 2 year-long awaited comeback. Down, out, injured, written off, perma-crock, forgotten – Owen Hargreaves. It couldn’t have happened to nicer fellow as he always seemed like one of the rare down-to-earth footballers. As the season ended, his contract was not renewed by United and his desperation to succeed was summed up by the fact that he offered to play for free for the club, but to no avail. Without a club and without much hope, Hargreaves turned to Youtube to save his career as no club was willing to take the risk on him.
Posting videos of himself training and doing some exercises in the gym to prove he was in good physical condition again rang a few alarms with Leicester City, West Brom and Fulham all confirming an interest in him. But it wasn’t until deadline day when moneybags Manchester City came in with an offer that Hargreaves found hope again. A surprising move more than anything else, but this was his chance. Nobody would have expected him to make a move to a club that's challenging for major honors. This move was a blow in the face for United fans, because had he moved to any other club, pretty much every United fan would have kept a positive eye out for Hargreaves. Having supported him and sang his name for 3 years, despite his absence from the team, making the move to City (or any challenging neighbors) and accusing United of mishandling him during his injury trauma is the type of blow that gets a United fan (or any football fan) disappointed .
But in this case, I believe the move is understandable. Hargreaves has moved to resurrect his career and to play the game again. What were supposed to be his peak years were spent on the treatment table, so a move to any “top” club would have been preferable for Hargreaves. This is especially a winning situation for City. They signed the player on a free, he is on a pay-as-you-play contract and he’s got a lot to prove, so the club benefits from his efforts (obviously no financial risk will fall upon City anytime soon either), and if he stays fit it will make the move worthwhile; whereas for Hargreaves it is a second chance to play football at the highest level again for a club that has a large squad and competing in the Champions League, a chance to stay in the same city, to stay in the same league and to train alongside some top footballers. He can't be blamed for it. His long awaited comeback game was finally complete last week when he made his Manchester City debut in the Carling cup. 57 minutes played without any injury or setback. Hargreaves is back and by the looks of it, he hasn’t lost his touch either, with a goal to welcome back his return (click here). It's the sort of story that has a bitter sweet taste to it as it's painful to watch any ex-United player in a City shirt, but I do wish him the best of luck...but the worst of luck on Manchester City.