As reports continue to surface that Gareth Barry may not be fully fit in time for the World Cup, Owen Hargreaves chances of boarding the plane with the rest of the England squad for South Africa have apparently increased. Despite making only one appearance for Manchester United in the past 20 months, a 2 minute cameo against Sunderland last weekend, Fabio Capello appears to see a role for the tough tackling midfielder. While his opportunities may end up being limited, his grit and versatility could prove enough to make the Canadian-born veteran a risk worth taking.
However, the England staff has a lot to consider if they want to avoid turning the Hargreaves situation into another Theo Walcott, Sven Goran Eriksson fiasco. For the past few months, it is believed that the red devil has been healthy but not ready to play. Sir Alex chalked up the delay to the psychological difficulties of playing on two surgically repaired knees. Due to the fragility of those knees, Hargreaves may not have the steel and nerve to show the determination in the tackle that defined him as a footballer and therefore, wouldn’t have the impact that his national team manager is looking for.
Even if this isn’t this case, it is difficult to find World Cup form after a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Players who are injured often have a heavy touch and unusually poor field awareness. There is no way of knowing whether Hargreaves will have the necessary technical abilities to be ready for this level of competition after only two minutes of competitive football in almost 2 years. In the eyes of many, Fabio Capello would be hard-pressed to include him in the England squad.
Still, Hargreaves credentials indicate that, if fit, the only choice for the Italian is to take him to South Africa. Not only can he fill Barry’s void at holding midfield, he can also fill the possible hole that Glen Johnson’s injury may create at right back, where Hargreaves has played many times for club and country, or on the right side of midfield, where he played at times for Manchester United during their 2007/2008 Champions League run.
Also, his experience in big games rivals that of any other England player. He has not only started for Manchester United in Champions League final two years ago, he played for Bayern Munich in 2001 while at the ripe age of 20, winning on both occasions. In 2002, he started twice for England at the World Cup in South Korea, and four years later, he was voted England’s player of the year, mainly for his performance at the 2006 tournament in Germany, where he played a crucial role behind Gerrard and Lampard in midfield. He has the experience to provide leadership for the scandal-ridden side, that if not from the field, will at least be useful in the somewhat divided locker room.
Hargreaves can be a valuable member to this England team; yet, by selecting him, England run the risk of picking a player who isn’t mentally or physically ready for the grind of a strenuous tournament. One often overlooked feature that the3 lions can be confident of, is his ability to convert his penalty in a shootout if ever necessary – a skill England teams have never possessed. While Hargreaves may be an afterthought once England kicks off their World Cup campaign on June 12th against the United States, until then, he will be weighing heavily on the mind of Fabio Capello.