The much anticipated new 25 player squad rule which came into being at 5pm on Tuesday has been little more than a non event as far as Manchester United were concerned. As the club reported on its official website “All United players, barring those currently out on loan, are eligible to play for the Reds in the Premier League this season. United’s Champions League squad has also been submitted to UEFA, European football’s governing body and now has to be verified before being confirmed.”
“There had been some media debate as to whether Owen Hargreaves, still currently receiving treatment in the US for a tendonitis problem that his limited him to one substitute appearance since September 2008, would make the final squad. But he has been included.” Hargreaves was on dodgy ground as Sir Alex Ferguson contemplated whether to gamble on his fitness. The midfielder is still in America after going back for more rehab in Colorado where he had had two knee operations last year in specialist Dr Richard Steadman’s clinic.
The England international managed a 30 second comeback cameo as a sub for the first team last May at Sunderland but after training during the summer, pulled out of the United’s pre season tour of the US and Canada to return to Colorado.
The Premier League’s new rule has been introduced to stop clubs buying older foreign born players “But there is no limit on the number of players under the age of 21” Sir Alex explained “so there are no complications for our up and coming youngsters such as the da Silva brothers, Bebe and Chris Smalling. I have plenty of room to manoeuvre” he said.
Hargreaves’ injury nightmare is a reminder to all those highly paid Premier League stars of how quickly their fortunes can turn. It also goes some way towards answering the critics who despise the fact that youngsters barely out of their teens can become overnight millionaires simply by ‘kicking a ball’. Serious injury will always stalk a footballer and Hargreaves is by no means a rare exception.
Think back to the unfortunate West Ham striker Dean Ashton who was forced to retire at age 26 just nine months ago after failing to recover from a long term ankle injury sustained during international duty with England. Then there was Jesper Blomqvist whose career virtually came to an end at the age of 25 because of a serious knee injury soon after winning the treble with Manchester United in 1999. Blomqvist was unable to play in the next two seasons which resulted in the club deciding not to renew his contract.
Injuries are undoubtedly part and parcel of being a footballer but being out of long term action or having your playing days cut short is not the worst that can happen. Earning millions during what is always at best a relatively short career can never compensate those unfortunates whose injuries result in the rest of their young lives being spent as hobbling cripples.
Will Hargreaves ever overcome his injury to reclaim his spot in the team?