Club Focus – Manchester United – Red Devils and England look on

It is not often a player who has not made an appearance for his club since September 2008 and who has only made 25 starts in total since his arrival at the club in 2007 is still considered by many to be worth a seat on the England team plane to South Africa this summer. Owen Hargreaves is one such player who is held in such high regard by the footballing nation as a whole that there are still lingering hopes that he will make this summer’s tournament.

These hopes have been dealt a significant blow with the news that he has not made Manchester United’s revised 25-man Champions League squad for the latter stages of the tournament. A story which has been broken by The Times seems to be in contrast to recent reports concerning his fitness. Sir Alex Ferguson had stated that the former Bayern Munich star has been training alternatively with the first team and the reserves and will only make his return when he has gained enough confidence to train consistently with the first team. Indeed Ferguson challenged him to make the next Champions League fixture away at AC Milan in his recent programme notes – a statement that has also been prominent on the club’s official website. With this latest revelation concerning the squad comes the news that Hargreaves will not just miss out on the Milan tie but could be missing for the remainder of the season.

This will come as a blow to the United faithful as a player who is often claimed to be the love of their lives will have been missing for almost two of the first three years of his four year contract with severe doubts lingering over whether he can in fact get back to anything near the player he once was. It has been a crying shame that United have only seen what a magnificent player Hargreaves is on a few occasions. Many will point to the impact that Darren Fletcher has made while Hargreaves has been out as an indicator that United can continue without their £20m man. Fletcher’s importance to the side is clear for all to see but it is often Hargreaves’ ability to drive forward in possession of the ball either from the middle or on the right that has been missed. Not that United looked short of that particular ability at the Emirates. United and England fans alike are desperate for any news concerning this genuinely world class player – at the moment it is not looking good.

In other news concerning both United and England much has been said this week debating Wayne Rooney’s credentials as the next England captain should John Terry be stripped of the duty. There is no doubt that Rooney has leadership qualities, demonstrated in abundance in his recent United performances, and in truth he is ideal captain material seemingly destined for that duty at club level. But whether this will be too much pressure for a 24-year-old already carrying the nation’s hopes on his back is certainly up for debate. Rooney certainly seems to be a reformed character following his marriage and subsequent birth of his son but it is not that long since he was the constant figure of criticism concerning his behaviour on the pitch and certain off-field antics. United fans will simply be hoping his club form continues and that he stays fit for the rest of the season.

Another player the Stretford End will be hoping will be a constant fixture in the United side until the end of the season is Rio Ferdinand. The Peckham-born player served the first match of his four game ban last weekend and the club has confirmed that they will lodge a second appeal. If the FA considered the first appeal frivolous and increased the ban for wasting their time it is difficult to envisage how they will find in favour of the United man this time around. Consequently, United run the risk of being without their No 5 for the League Cup final against Aston Villa if the FA again come to the same conclusion. This may look to be a risky tactic but United may view the risk of losing Ferdinand for a final he may not have played in as reasonable considering the outcome if they do win and he is able to take his place for the tough away trip to Goodison Park. There is no doubt that United feel they have a strong case with Ferguson highlighting the FA’s inconsistency when dealing with violent conduct offences, but whether the FA will in fact overturn a decision they have made to rule out frivolous appeals seems unlikely.

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