Having been confirmed that Owen Hargreaves will not be offered a new deal at Old Trafford, the predominant question for fans regarding the midfielder will be ‘what if?’
We were aware of Hargreaves injury issues when we signed him, he was coming off a broken leg at Bayern Munich and played just 9 league games in his final season with the German giants so the risk was there but we still decided to gamble and depending on your outlook on life his spell as brief as it was can be deemed either a success or a failure.
I’d be fooling nobody if I called Hargreaves 4 years at Old Trafford an unmitigated success. For the fee we paid Sir Alex and we the fans would have hoped for way more than the 39 appearances we got but saying that I doubt there will be any weeping when we look at what we did get in those games.
I remember being excited about the Hargreaves signing, he had been England’s stand out performer in Germany the previous summer so there were high hopes for him at Old Trafford. Few fans weren’t excited about the signing as it was expected he would provide that extra bite in the midfield at a time when there were still questions being asked about an adequate replacement for Roy Keane.
Bayern Munich had been playing hardball over the England international, using all the usual language a team does when a team is looking to get top dollar for a player they would like to keep but are ultimately resigned to losing. United had failed to sign Hargreaves in the January and summer previously despite Hargreaves admitting he would like to play in the Premiership as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness dug their heels in regarding a transfer and to be fair they had every right to do so, Bayern Munich aren’t a small side to be bullied into selling their players so they could have kept Hargreaves albeit an unhappy Hargreaves.
But an announcement was made in May that Hargreaves would sign in July and the rest as they say is history as 4 years and 39 appearances later his tenure here won’t go down as the monumental spell that it should have been.
I guess in instances like this it is better to focus on the good rather than the bad so in that case the contribution he made to our double in 2008 was invaluable. Everyone will remember his performances in Europe and the freekicks against Arsenal and Fulham. His versatility in that season, playing in defence, in the middle and out wide was an obvious advantage as we saw in the Champions League final at right wing as he battled against Ashley Cole to keep the left back’s forays forward to a minimum and if we speak of the final how can you not mention his thumping penalty into the top corner past Petr Cech in the shootout and his roaring celebration after? It will be an enduring image of his spell here.
These are the memories he left us with to hold onto and sadly they are why we ask what if he had been able to remain fit and had not been so unlucky with injuries?
Sit back and try and recall how many times you have said to yourself after seeing a poor midfield performance from United, ‘I wish Hargreaves had been in there?’ Probably the biggest instance of this is the Champions League final in 2009 where we were outclassed in the midfield and left chasing our tails as Xavi and Iniesta passed around us.
Would Hargreaves’ energy and determination have helped? I would wager yes. This isn’t to say he was a one man show but Hargreaves was a quality player and did his job well so if he was tasked with trying to keep Barcelona on a leash I feel we would have fared better than we did that night in Rome.
Nobody knew that when he played against Chelsea in September 2008 that would be the last proper performance we would get from him but the tendonitis in both of his knees ensured that despite numerous false dawns his time as a United player essentially ended on that afternoon.
He said he came to United to win trophies in 2007 and a year later he reached the pinacle of club football doing a European Cup and League double so despite his career at United being sadly curtailed for everything that came before that afternoon at Stamford Bridge in 2008 we are truly happy and grateful.