Sir Alex Ferguson is reported to have scuppered Owen Hargreaves’ World Cup dream during a chance meeting with Fabio Capello when the pair bumped into each other at the League Managers’ Association dinner in London last Monday. Up until then Hargreaves was IN England’s 30 man squad but buy by the time Fergie’s conversation with the England coach had concluded five minutes later, Hargreaves was OUT at the expense of Gareth Barry.
The Manchester United chief convinced Capello that Hargreaves, who has played just 30 seconds of first team football this season, would not be ready. Fergie told the England chief he was “a long, long way away” from being able to compete at the highest level forcing Capello into an incredible U-turn. It also explains why Barry, who was publicly ruled out by Capello on Monday afternoon because of ankle ligament damage, was reinstated when the squad was officially announced on Tuesday.
Hargreaves had initially been picked ahead of Barry after intense lobbying from England’s general manager Franco Baldini. Capello and Baldini had reached agreement some time ago that they would pick one “wild card” entry into their World Cup squad. That man was Hargreaves, aware that England had been probing for his medical records at United until Monday night.
The dramatic development will stun Hargreaves who was suddenly axed from United’s squad to face Stoke at Old Trafford last Sunday. He was hoping to get at least 30 minutes to show Capello he could do a job at the finals but there was no place for him in Ferguson’s 18 man squad and stormed away from the stadium 50 minutes before kickoff. Interestingly, Hargreaves had come on as a substitute in the 1-0 victory over Sunderland in the Premier League the week before.
United claimed Hargreaves’ exit was due to illness but an onlooker said “At about 3.10pm a member of the security team got into a grey Audi and headed for Gate 4B of the Stretford End. The way the car moved off I thought it was one of the Glazers trying to get away. But then Hargreaves appeared and he did not look happy, he didn’t hang about for long.” Although the United midfielder has chronic tendinitis in both knees, the player is convinced he has found a solution to the problem.
Earlier this year Fergie went on record to say “Hargreaves owes us now, he has to think of his club not his country” after showing so much patience. Fergie took matters into his own hands on Monday night and that explains Barry’s dramatic reprieve after first fearing that his World Cup ambitions were over. England went to great lengths to assess Hargreaves’ condition and were certain that he could get through the next two months.
The FA’s medical staff have been collating information this week on each of the 30 players overall health. They have been working with clubs to access the data relating to fitness, conditioning and recovery before they travel to their Austrian training camp tomorrow. England’s players will wear specially adapted heart rate monitors to every training session, logging their performance and recovery.
The England chief is also putting the finishing touches to his backroom staff, scheduling a meeting with David Beckham to discuss his role in South Africa. Beckham has been ruled out with ankle ligament damage but the 2018 World Cup bid ambassador will be a big part of England’s plans.
Capello said “I have to speak with Beckham and decide the role he will have in South Africa. He played a lot of games for the national team in a short space of time and he was always important for me. David could have gone on holiday during the World Cup or stay at home with his family. He is a perfect role model which is important. He can do anything he wants but prefers to be with us, he has a love of the shirt”
Sir Alex will never claim that managing a club like United is an easy task. He knows full well how hard Hargreaves had to work to get into a position where he could even be considered by Capello for a place in England’s World Cup squad but Ferguson’s first duties are to his club and the well being of his players. He obviously came to the conclusion that having Hargreaves consolidate his recovery from such a long injury over the summer was in the players best interest.
Did Ferguson do the right thing by getting involved in Capello’s selection process?