I’ll admit it. When it was first announced that we were splashing out around £18 million on the injury prone and rather ordinary but industrious Owen Hargreaves I was a little baffled to say the least.
Let’s face facts. Hargreaves arrived at United having spent his fair share of time in the physio’s room at Bayern Munich, most notably breaking his leg during his final season with the German club in September 2006. At the end of the day he didn’t score goals (five in nearly 150 games for Bayern), he wasn’t a creative player and other than his work rate I didn’t see what he brought to the table.
Even our very own RedRanter had his doubts over Hargreaves and particularly his fitness. And to know that Ferguson was willing to part with £18 million too, well it just didn’t add up.
I sit here now putting together this article a few hours before we take on FC Porto in arguably the biggest game of the season. My prediction? 2-1 United but that is coming firmly from the heart. If I’m realistic and go with my head, a trip to the Estadio Dragao (where coincidentally no English team has ever won) with our current defensive frailties really doesn’t bode well. Let’s be honest. If the Portuguese side play anywhere near as well as they did at Old Trafford and we put on a similarly uninspirational performance, it’s game over in the Champions League for this season.
You’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this (if the title wasn’t already a giveaway!) but the one player I feel we desperately miss at the moment is a certain Owen Hargreaves. I’m trying my utmost not to get caught in the ‘look how Essien handled Gerrard last week’ trap here but it really is my honest opinion that Hargreaves would have helped stem the tide of the current slump we are witnessing. In all fairness it is difficult to explain how we have conceded 11 goals in five games when VDS was breaking clean sheet records left, right and centre earlier in the season. I believe you would almost halve that amount with Hargreaves in front of the back four.
Porto were brilliant last week in their own little way and as much as we were off the pace, the way they counter-attacked was sublime at times. So how do you counter a counter-attack? Well with Hargreaves in the side he would have happily provided cover for the likes of Evra, Neville and O’Shea who all galloped forward at different stages of the match, often to our detriment. Hargreaves would have read the danger, cut out those little pockets of space and I believe his presence in the side would have gone some way to destabilising the threat of our Portuguese opponents.
As hard-working, bullish and, at times, brilliant Darren Fletcher has been this season, he isn’t one to just sit and hold to free up others to bomb on forward. I noticed Michael Carrick has often adopted the holding role in recent times and purely through necessity rather than anything else. As we all know Carrick is at his creative best when he is given the freedom to influence a game and dictate the flow and pace of it with his passing ability. I hate to say it but look at the system the dippers have in place with Alonso and Mascherano. It has had proven results and the Spaniard is having a good season it must be said.
More often than not we are making basic errors at the moment and with Hargreaves’ tenacity and hard-working style that may have helped us get the basics right again. The England man won’t be back until the start of next season at the earliest which could prove to be a blow to our trophy aspirations for the remainder of the current campaign.
We may go to the Dragao and smash Porto tonight but at this present time I can’t wait for Owen Hargreaves to pull on a Red shirt once again. Can you?