When Owen Hargreaves was presented to the media, along with Portuguese young star Nani, after completing his move to Manchester United, he made a point of stressing that he was not there to replace anyone, or to be the new someone. Having said as much he is fully aware that the comparisons and discussions of his role and play in relation to that of Roy Keane will not simply be swept away. United have been searching for a Keane type player from even before Keane left Old Trafford. Is Hargreaves the man to finally fill those colossal boots?
Many players have been bought for such a role and they have all inevitably failed. Think Djemba Djemba, Kleberson, Liam Miller and even Alan Smith for a while. The difference here being that the deficiencies here may be with the players themselves rather than the expectation. Many factors may have contributed to their failings, from cultural, style, not being able to handle playing to not getting a decent run in the first team. Whatever the reasons they have all come and gone. Hargreaves, who Sir Alex chased for over a year, may prove to be the player to finally lay claim to the role.
Hargreaves, an England international who was born in Canada, has never played in England, but came through the ranks at Bayern Munich. For whatever reason English defensive midfielders tend to lack the discipline to stick to their role of protecting the back four. Hargreaves has this discipline instilled within him. It is an aspect of his game that was recognised by his international managers, coaches and team mates, and that the English public failed to see until the World Cup in Germany. Hargreaves will bring energy and alertness to an already strong midfield, and his field coverage and tackles, his winning back of possession, and his tactical know how, will all allow Ronaldo, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney, Nani and Anderson to create more and to play with more freedom, in the knowledge that he will be in position to deal with any threats. This will be a freedom that United, for all their attacking prowess, have not enjoyed since Keane.
While this will surely improve them in the Premiership, it is in Europe that Hargreaves skills will be fully utilised. United, although they reached the semi finals last year, have not been impressive in the Champions League since winning it in ’99. Last year they showed fleeting glimpses of what they were capable of, beating Roma 7-1 and Milan 3-2, but lacked consistency, and did not drive home their advantage in many games. Hargreaves in the midfield will mean that United wont give the ball away carelessly, they will retain possession more, and will not look as nervous at the back. This will all allow them to attack more and play the expansive game they do in the Premiership, on foreign soil.
Hargreaves is not a Roy Keane, or a Patrick Vieria, he doesn’t dominate games, but is more of a Gennaro Gattuso type player, who will go about his job, as unglamourous as it is, and allow the team to progress. He is a team player. With United having the talented individuals that they do have he is just the type of player that United need to move forward, and Sir Alex, and Hargreaves himself, will be hoping that he helps take United to success in England and Europe