Friday, September 23, 2011

On Benedict Hargreaves

photo by Marion Dossvia PhotoRee

I wasn't prepared to dislike Owen Hargreaves; I really wasn't.  In fact, my memories of Hargo are pretty good, actually.  I enjoyed seeing a North American player become a key part of the United squad -- Hargo was living proof that a Canadian could actually perform at the highest level of a sport other than hockey or curling....

I can still see Hargo bounding on the pitch, complete with his curly moppet of hair, and stifle opposition defenses while at the same time controlling the pace and possession of a game as one of the world's premier holding midfielders.  My most vivid memory of Hargreaves, though, likely isn't the same as yours - mine involves him curling a free kick beautifully into the corner of the net at Craven Cottage in March 2008, his first league goal for United (and one of only two league goals he scored in total for United) made all the more vivid by the fact I was in attendance at the game with my oldest daughter.

And before I go on, let me state this for the record: I didn't feel the same sense of betrayal that many United fans felt when Hargreaves left for Eastlands during the last transfer window.  Maybe it was naivete on my part.  I prefer, however, to assign my feelings to a genuine sympathy for Hargo, and a sense of magnamity toward someone who has been through a lot.

I remember how dejected I felt when Hargreaves took the pitch against Wolves last season, lasting less than five minutes before a pulled hamstring forced him into that long last walk into the tunnel, the finality of his career at United settling on me -- as I'm certain it did for many United fans, and likely Hargo himself -- that day.  Sure, there was the mild hope that he might return, but there was always that next injury -- shoulder, etc. -- that time and again popped up to derail his comeback plans.

So I didn't begrudge him the move to City.  Sure, I wish he had gone elsewhere -- how could I not....?  In fact, just yesterday morning I tweeted the following: "I'd genuinely like to see Hargo succeed.  I just don't want to see him succeed at [Manchester City]."

But that was before Hargo's interview with Danny Taylor in today's edition of The Guardian.   That interview has changed it all for me.  If Hargo had kept quiet, if Hargo had just played, and let his knees and feet do the talking, if Hargo had not felt compelled to speak out, I could have handled it.  I could have nodded grudgingly at his goal for City in the League Cup last night, Hargo lasting nearly 60 minutes, and reportedly looking fairly good -- I could have done it and wished him the best personally, but not wished him success as a member of that team.

But not now.  Not after Hargreaves publicly aired his complaints to the team that paid him for the past three years with very little to show for it in return. I might even have been able to handle Hargreaves' disagreement with how he was treated.  After all, reasonable people -- even medical doctors -- can disagree on the best treatment for a problem.  But it's here that the story takes on a more sinister feel.  As Taylor puts it:
But it was his now-infamous appearance against Wolverhampton Wanderers last November when his story takes a shocking turn.
Hargreaves's account is that he told the club he was unable to play and knew he was so injured he would not even be able to run at full speed.
Hargreaves says he felt forced to play -- and apparently didn't feel he was in a position to say no to Sir Alex.  Hargreaves states this as though we are to believe that he never pushed to get back on the playing pitch, but instead was a reluctant participant, pushed on by the club to return to the pitch sooner than he expected, or was capable of handling.

In doing so, he implicitly asks the reader to forget that this is the same Owen Hargreaves who pushed Fergie to the limit in March of 2010 about playing football for England in the World Cup under Fabio Capello -- before Fergie finally put his foot down after numerous article in the British press, and told Hargreaves to focus on his rehabilitation -- for United's sake.

And yet Hargreaves goes on:
The guys here [City's medical staff] have been great so far. I have been here three weeks and you can already see the difference in me moving. I knew it was all there. It was just a matter of doing things right, I guess. You have to take things step by step."
There is an inference that this was not the case at Old Trafford. 
Hargreaves is not an idiot.  He had to know these statements would raise the hackles of United fans.  He didn't go about this interview innocently, unknowing that it might offend the very people who wanted to see him succeed -- the same people that spent the better part of three years cheering for him, fervently hoping he would come back and perform at the levels they hoped he was still capable of.

But he chose to go ahead and say it anyway.  And that he was willing to do so makes me think Owen Hargreaves knew exactly what he was doing when signing for City -- he knew the raw feelings it would cause, and rather than look the other way, Hargreaves instead chose to do it for that very reason.  Because he feels he has something to prove.

There's a famous saying: "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me."  But you're not going to fool me again, Owen.  I know what's in your heart.  I stuck up for you before, but those days are gone.

I no longer hope you'll succeed.  I'm no longer a personal fan.  You chose your bed, and now you'll lie in it.  I hope it's worth it to you to choose ignominy over stoicism, bile over compassion.

Enjoy your time at City, Owen Hargreaves.  I hope you rot on the bench.

This is farlieonfootie for September 23.

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