With the almost interminable monotony of the international break really starting to bite by the weekend, I scoured the web for Premier League news. And something did catch my eye.
I say news, but you would think that »Owen Hargreaves in fresh injury setback« would no longer be a story by now. Alas, the 30-year-old Manchester United, and former Bayern Munich midfielder has suffered a shoulder injury in training that will keep him out for yet another four weeks, as he attempts to battle back from a never-ending litany of problems. Hargreaves has managed just six minutes of first-team football for United since September 2008, and is undergoing a lonely and depressing twilight to a career that has seen him almost perpetually on the outside looking in.
Hargreaves never quite fit the mould of what many thought an English footballer should be. With his gently foreign inflection and a realm of experience in Canada and Germany that was so other-ly, blinkered English fans could barely accept him. He didn’t seem popular at Bayern either, where Oliver Khan was all too happy to malign him for, »taking the spotlight from German internationals«, according to Hargreaves.
The much-criticised Sven Goran Eriksson though proved he wasn’t all stacked shoes and sex scandals, when he stuck by the midfielder in the face of public scepticism. Eriksson picked him for in his squads for the 2002 World Cup, Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup – and at the latter in particular Hargreaves showed the benefits of his top-class continental education.
Hargreaves played in all five of England’s games in Germany, and briefly attained national treasure status. As others around him crumbled in the quarter-final against Portugal, Hargreaves ran himself into the ground, a frenzied presence at the heart of 10-man England, embodying all the passion fans have ever wanted to see in the team. He was also the only player to score his penalty in the fateful shoot-out that ended the match and the fans took even themselves by surprise, by singing the name of the wan outsider they had hitherto mistrusted.
Tragically though, it is such all-action performances that have put Hargeaves in trouble now. Since Manchester United moved mountains to sign him in 2007 for a fee of £17 million, his body has faltered and he has been plagued by tendonitis in both knees, recurrent hamstring problems and now a freak, dislocated shoulder. Despite multiple operations by famed Colorado knee-mender Dr. Richard Steadman, Hargreaves has receded ever further into the background at Old Trafford, looking on from the treatment table as his team-mates have won medals and the fans have sung new heroes’ names.
Every now and then news of a comeback is whispered, and those who would love to see Hargeaves’ biting tackles and crisp passing again, hope against hope. But few really believe any more, even Sir Alex Ferguson. He blamed »anxiety« for Hargreaves’ recent breakdown after five minutes against Wolves in November and seemed to suggest that the player himself had given up on ever making it back to first-team football.
It is a sad state of affairs. Each weekend, another match passes Hargreaves by, and he is left to soldier on alone at Carrington, as his contract ticks down towards its end in the summer. At this point, even the most humanitarian manager would find it impossible to offer him an extension. To do so would only prolong his humiliating behind-the-scenes cycle of injury and rehabilitation, faint hope and crushing disappointment. Barring a miracle, it is likely the midfield prowler has played his last game for United – perhaps his last game, period.
Because who now would take a punt on him? A player whose body is ruined, and whose mindset must also be seriously damaged. Is there a Premier League club with a better medical department than United, perhaps able to offer the player a pay-as-you-play deal? In the absence of a snapping Mark Van Bommel in midfield, would Bayern Munich consider taking him back? Hargreaves is unlikely to relish a return to the Bundesliga, having agitated for so long for a move to England. But the painful wandering of the nomad with the knackered knees does not seem over – even if his only journey at this point should be ‘home’ to hang up his boots. Wherever home is.
An dieser Stelle erklärt Titus Chalk die englische Fußball-Kultur auf Deutsch
Folge 32: Mad Jens
»Er ist noch irre«, hat diese Woche Arsenals Wojciech Szczeny über Jens Lehmann gesagt. Ob das eine gute Nachrichte ist, für eine Mannschaft, die eine Abwehr-Krise erlebt, ist eine sehr gute Frage. Allerdings, ist ‚Mad Jens’ amüsant, was soll lustig sein, für Anhänger, die erwarten sonst eine weitere Saison-Ende ohne Titel. Die Rückkehr bei Arsenal des witzigsten Deutsches seit Karl Marx (Kommunismus war nen Witz, oder?) wird wahrscheinlich nur von Manuel Almunia nicht geschätzt. Der Torhüter mit der gequälten Blick hat schon in 2008 gesagt dass, „Ich weiss, dass Lehmann mich hasst,“ und musst sein Pech kaum glauben. Wieder Mad Jens in der Kabine zu sehen ist seinen schlimmsten Albtraum. Erwarten Sie zu sehen, Almunias Tranensäcke nur immer dunklere zu werden – besonders wenn Lehmann seinen Stammplatz für das nächste Spiel nimmt...