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Owen Hargreaves: A Delicate Decision

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When Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson decided to not offer Owen Hargreaves a new contract and let him leave the club for free the last place everyone expected the Canadian to end up was over the road at their bitter rivals Manchester City.

Throughout the summer it looked increasingly likely that Roy Hodgson’s West Bromwich Albion would eventually land Hargreaves after publicly declaring their interest in signing him. It seemed like the best option for a man who was close to packing it in and retiring after long spells out.

Rumours of Tottenham making a move seemed an option also but instead Hargreaves decided to anger most Manchester United fans and opt for a switch from Old Trafford to the Etihad Stadium but was he right to do so?

United have been more than patient with Hargreaves. They paid £17 million for him in the summer of 2007 where he became an instant hit among the Old Trafford faithful, playing a key part in our side that won the Premier League title and Champions League.

The fact is though that Hargreaves only made 39 appearances in 4 years with the Red Devils. Since August 2008 Hargreaves has been paid £11.2 million by Manchester United only played 55 minutes of football which is an incredible statistic. The tough tackling former Manchester United star was one of the best English midfielders at the time until his dreaded knee problems started ravaging his football career.

Ever since the knee problem began giving him trouble it persisted to worsen as time went on with many surgeons dumb-founded as to what had happened. Hargreaves was shipped to America to correct this problem and eventually making a comeback last season against Wolves at home but retreated back to the physio’s table after only 5 minutes of football played. Even the most patient Manchester United fan would lose faith in a man who has been described as being made of ‘glass.’

Many managers would have chucked Hargreaves out years ago and terminated his contract but Sir Alex Ferguson gave him time, patience and understanding and not to mention let the club pay his finances while he struggled to even show to repay them.

One has to consider the natural dilemma facing a club who has shown faith in a player who has time and time again not been able to repay the club who has shown him a lot of patience with injury after injury. It’s about the good of the club and the player.

United were well in their right not to offer Hargreaves a new contract seeing as he had only played a half a year of a 4-year contract and would understandably be a risk to offer an extension to that. Sir Alex Ferguson was somewhat adamant that Hargreaves would beat all his injuries and come back stronger than ever but unfortunately he had to let him go.

So where does Hargreaves go from here? He signs for bitter rivals Manchester City of course!

When news broke that Hargreaves was spotted leaving City’s training ground after completing a medical many were in disbelief as to what had occurred. It was by far the biggest transfer shock of the summer.

Hargreaves seemed to respect United immensely when that article came out showing insight into a man who was at his lowest point to refused to lie down and battle back to fitness. It even made some fans hail him as an inspiration to them which was immediately backtracked  by those same fans when he signed for Manchester City.

Of course understandably many fans were furious with Hargreaves disrespecting the club in this manner while others wished him well understanding that City were the biggest option for Hargreaves to resurrect his career at the top rather than fight for a mid-table place at West Brom. Of course you see the differences but we are talking about a man who hasn’t played regular football since 4 years ago.

City have the best midfield in the Premier League and not to mention great depth also. Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry operate in the holding midfield role for Manchester City with both players varying as to who commands the regular spot and now with Hargreaves in the frame you have to wonder how many games he will be able to start. 40 games does not seem a likelihood in this situation with him already been excluded for City’s Champions League squad one would wonder did Hargreaves make the best decision or a huge own goal.

If you were in his boots would you remain respectful and loyal to a club that were patient with you throughout injuries or accept they let you go and you deserve to choose the best option of high standard football?

Both can be claimed for each side. Loyalty in football is hard to come by with the modern footballer no longer in the mould they once were but you can understand Hargreaves choice and also bearing in mind he would like to stay in Manchester and not relocate moving his family again so we must bear in mind footballers are also humans which some people fail to understand.

Hargreaves crossing over to the blue side of Manchester is not as controversial as when Carlos Tevez opted to leave United in 2009 after winning the title. Fans were anxious for him to stay after impressing with his bullish hunting down of defenders and giving 100% on the pitch but soon changed their tune on the Argentine when he publicly disrespected the club before angrily ending up at Eastlands with many stating he was money driven.

The signing of Tevez was another key beginning of the real fierce rivalry between United and City being intensified as it now reaches boiling point as City themselves are title contenders. United became even more infuriated with City erecting a huge billboard in the city reading ”Welcome To Manchester” with Carlos Tevez in the background.

United fans have already mockingly made one of Hargreaves himself. The rivalry certainly won’t be easing up anytime soon with City buying many superstars and Sir Alex Ferguson building a young youthful team as he dismantles another. Manchester United of course were looking over their shoulder and had to acknowledge the real threat that City now pose so Hargreaves is joining at the worst time to try and gain fans understanding.

Manchester fans love to tease each other most notable the United faithful laying into how many years since City last obtained a trophy but were made to demolish that banner as City ended their long wait for silverware and United fans made to eat their words as City beat United en route to winning the F.A Cup. With Hargreaves now another ex United player moving to their fierce rivals will give City fans more incentive to infuriate United fans more who will always maintain it was about money for both Tevez and Hargreaves swapping red for blue.

We must not forget that Hargreaves wants to also resurrect his England career but with competition for places fierce at Manchester City. He will have to be at his absolute best to impress and stand out, which will be difficult for him to do as a man who is by no means 100% fit who could be troubled by even the slightest niggle, which will make fans continue to question his fitness.

Years ago you would have to imagine that had Owen Hargreaves made the switch to a mid-table City this would not be treated with such a backlash from fans. But as City are a huge force now entitles every United fan to be upset with him crossing over to a rival especially in the magnitude of City with this rivalry at its most fiercesome at this current time.

Hargreaves has shown YouTube videos to attract a host of clubs quite amusingly but for some reason City have taken a gamble on him and if he does indeed replicate the form of 4 years ago City have made such a huge signing for the summer at no cost (unlike them).

Time will tell whether Hargreaves will take this opportunity and grab it by the throat or make every United fan smile from ear to ear with failure. One thing’s for sure is that the Manchester derbies this season will have an extra addition of spice and will be some of the best and fiercely fought derbies we have seen in years.

”Was Hargreaves right to join United’s bitter rivals?”

 ”He surely should have shown them some respect right?”

 “They left him go he deserves to go where he likes”

The questions and statements continue and the compromise is a quarter of a million miles away but one thing’s for sure Hargreaves will be threading on glass shells this season for both sets of fans for different reasons.

By Darren Hickey @DHick92