article by Teo Teng Kiat
Image courtesy Super MF@Flickr
I remember watching the first goal Owen Hargreaves scored for United. We were playing against Fulham at Craven Cottage, and had just been awarded a free-kick outside the area. Nani was also over the ball as well, but Hargreaves stepped up and dispatched a beautiful curler up and over the wall, into the bottom left corner of the goal. It was brilliant technique, and he struck again with an even better effort against Arsenal a few weeks later in a pivotal win which helped United retain their league title that season.
As a new signing that season, Hargreaves arrived at Old Trafford from Bayern Munich after almost a year of negotiations. He had never played any football in the English league system before (he remains the only footballer to have played for England without having previously lived in the United Kingdom), and was initially much of a stranger to most supporters.
All the skepticism disappeared during England’s 2006 World Cup campaign, where he was easily the best player for them. I was blown away by his barnstorming performance against Portugal in the quarterfinal. He was literally everywhere on the field, sliding into tackles one moment, and then charging down the flanks in the next. He was the only successful penalty taker that night, as England crashed out on penalties in a match which people remember more for Cristiano Ronaldo’s alleged attempt at getting his United team-mate Rooney sent off.
I was all smiles when Ferguson signed him for £17million on 1st July 2007. On the last of the thirty-four appearances he made that season, he started the game and scored during the penalty shootout as United won the Champions League final against Chelsea in Moscow to add to their league crown.
Those two free-kicks would be the last goals he would ever score for United. His second season was a disaster as recurring problems on both knees surfaced, injuries he had suffered from previously during his time with Bayern. This signalled the start of what seemed like a never-ending nightmare, as Hargreaves repeatedly went under the knife to try and repair his knees. United supporters were left frustrated, as he seemed to have all but disappeared from the pitch, making only 4 brief appearances in the meantime.
This season, it seemed like he would finally return at long last. Forty-five minutes of Reserve football against Burnley led to a place on the bench against Spurs, and a 93rd minute cameo against Sunderland. But on his first start since September 2008,against Wolves, he suffered a hamstring injury and had to come off after only five minutes. All this culminated in the announcement yesterday by Sir Alex that the midfielder would not have his contract renewed by the club.
Undoubtedly one of England’s best midfielders when fit, and talented enough to have become a mainstay for both club and country, it’s a shame that injuries have been so cruel to him and wrecked his career. He served United well while it lasted, filling in superbly at rightback and right midfield when required, in addition to usual central midfield role. Although United have adapted, it’s fair to say Hargreaves lent an energy to our midfield no other player did, except for Anderson now. He was probably one of the best set-piece takers at the club, and boy, could he cross a ball as well.
At 30 years of age now, his best years as a footballer have probably been taken away from him during these wretched past three years or so. The club has stood by him all this time, but it’s hard to blame the manager for making this decision to release him. Hopefully he will recover sufficiently enough to have a shot at resurrecting what’s left of his career elsewhere.
You will be missed by United, and forever be remembered for that freekick, and the part you played in Moscow. Thank you, and goodbye, Hargo.