My Favourite Player: Owen Hargreaves

– by Sam Axon

In sport, the phrase “what if” is used perhaps more than any other. For every great player, there are hundreds of “what if” players, from the late Duncan Edwards, to the verging on late Paul Gascoigne. Among this endless list of sad stories is where you’ll find my favourite player: Owen Hargreaves.

Hargreaves has made just 39 appearances in four years at Manchester United. Photo: myfear via Flickr

As you read his name, I’m sure that the three things that come to your mind are: his constant injuries, the fact that he’s Canadian, and his curly locks. These aren’t the only strings in his bow, though. He regularly puts in committed, tireless performances when fit, and always wears his heart on his sleeve for both club and country. He’s a great passer of the ball and a gifted reader of the game. What more could a fan ask for?

The great tragedy is that Hargreaves’ career has been constantly plagued by injuries. The poor lad has not been blessed with the most endurable of legs and for every one of his great achievements, he has an injury to match. His latest injury battle could even force his retirement. It truly is a sad story for someone who, in my opinion, had the potential to be one of the great players of the 2000s.

Hargreaves started his football career at the tender age of 13 as part of the Calgary Foothills SC youth team (a club who also produced FC Koln’s current centre back, Kevin McKenna) before signing for German giants Bayern Munich at 16, where he soon began to make a name for himself. He made his debut during the 2000/01 season and was part of the team which won the much-coveted dream double, consisting of the Champions League and Bundesliga titles. Hargreaves thrust himself into the international spotlight with a stand-out performance against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final, holding his own against the likes of Roberto Carlos and Luis Figo.

He soon earned a call-up to the England squad, and made his debut against the Netherlands in 2001, becoming the first person to play for England who had neither been born nor played football in the country. Suddenly, Hargreaves began to come to the nation’s attention. He was part of the team that beat Germany 5-1 in Munich and cemented a regular place thereafter.

The World Cup in 2002 saw Hargreaves cruelly injured during the second group match against Argentina. He didn’t see action again in the tournament. This was the first of his many injury-induced disappointments – the fact that such occasions only come around every two years making it even more disappointing for the player.

Thankfully, the following two tournaments would prove to be the highlights of his England career. He put in good performances in Euro 2004, then managed to stay injury free for the duration of England’s campaign in Germany in the 2006 World Cup, where he was undoubtedly England’s player of the tournament. He showed the country that at least someone cared enough to put in the hard graft that was required in such a tournament, and also that not all Canadians are soft. His tournament ended with him slotting a penalty past Ricardo in the quarter-final shootout against Portugal, one which England subsequently lost, and sadly, one which marked the end of Hargreaves’ involvement in major tournaments. However, his performances and commitment to the cause will live long in the memory.

After managing to sellotape his knees back together, he moved to long time suitors Manchester United for £17million in the summer of 2007. Sir Alex Ferguson was sure that the United medical team would be able to conquer Hargreaves’ knee problem, but sadly it was not to be.  Hargreaves himself putting in another steady and mature performance in the 2008 Champions League final win against Chslea – again scoring in the shootout. Another truly memorable moment that comes to mind is this goal against Arsenal which helped secure Manchester United the title.

All signs now point to Hargreaves’ retirement from professional football. Yet another possible great whose career has been effectively ruined by the frailty of the human body. It’s such a shame; the only consolation is that the man himself has earned a bag full of money regardless. Although I still can’t help but feel that we’ve been robbed of some precious football moments over the years, as the ones we did see fade into memory.

– Sam Axon is a German student at the University of Hull, currently teaching in Bremen, Germany. 

One Comment to “My Favourite Player: Owen Hargreaves”

  1. Great Article. Such a shame what has happened to this truly outstanding player. For the record he is also my favourite player. He still has a chance at Manchester United, but a pay as you play deal is the best we and Owen can hope for.

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