The main story coming out of Old Trafford today should have been the celebration of Sir Alex Ferguson’s 24th year in charge of Manchester United, but it took a very cold seat on the back burner.
Ji-Sung Park’s valiant performance, which he scored two injury-time goals – one in each half – would have normally grabbed all of the headlines back pages as well.
But both of these events only provided another temporary, but very transparent mask to the major falsehood that unfolded in the opening minutes of the match.
Owen Hargreaves injury-hell during his three-year stint at United has continued to play the role of the ugly duckling – and certainly his career at Old Trafford has to be over now, right?
This unfortunate, tragic injury has marred the commemoration, which saw Ferguson become the longest successive tenured manager in United’s famous 132-year history.
Surprisingly, Ferguson opted to give Owen his first start since September 21, 2008, but that will be overshadowed because his long-awaited returned only lasted a very short four minutes.
Hargreaves’ selection more than likely came due to the alarming number of first-team players who were bed-ridden by a virus, and but the United supporters almost wish he suffered from the illness as well.
However, he was selected to patrol down the United right wing to allow United to play their traditional 4-4-2, and his first call into action was very weak cross, which was sent straight back to him, and his second bite of the cherry became his last.
The once-versatile midfielder was seen clutching the back of his left leg after his spun an off-balance cross back in, which led to him pulling his hamstring.
Clearly embarrassed, Hargreaves gave it every ounce of effort he had as he attempted to soldier on, but he knew deep down that he was unable to.
The injury to one of their favorite players, was completely disheartening and hard to take for the Old Trafford faithful, but they gave him an honorary standing ovation for his courageous contribution.
This gave the already-sick manager an unwanted headache, and was forced to shuffle his game plan and make an early substitution.
Ferguson, who missed his pre-match press conference due to illness, had to get out of his seat – before even could get warm – to choose which of his limited substitutions he was going to select to replace Hargo.
The United boss finally decided on Bébé – FIVE minutes after the injury-ridden player went straight down the touchline to the change room – which could be the final chance he has in a United shirt.
Despite one half-chance, the introduction of Bébé did very little to change United’s very gloomy, dour performance, and his inability to provide an ample cross ultimately led to his own withdrawal with just over 15 minutes to play.
Following the match, Sir Alex admitted that he was taking a risk by playing him saying, “I took a gamble with Hargreaves but he’d been training really well and I thought by picking him we’d have a compact midfield with experience, but it only lasted a couple of minutes – it was a disaster.”
United are currently dealing with a virus going through their entire squad, which was clearly evident by the young, inexperience subs’ bench.
Today, Ferguson sent another virus to the United States to get fit and his head on straight, but the question remains as what to do with this plague.
How many chances can a player be given before patience and complete confidence has been lost?
Ferguson, who sent Wayne Rooney to Nike’s Headquarters in Portland, Oregon, will surely not want to make any other strategic decisions being sick, because the United manager probably did not even have enough energy up his contract.
This saga, which is the only way one can describe the last two-plus years, needs to come to an amicable end, so both – United and Hargreaves – can continue on with their lives.
When a player, who is on a very significant contract, contributes just under FIVE minutes in two years, as Hargreaves done, it has to come to a quick end, because it is not fair on all parties – the manager, the player and the supporters.
To be fair to him, lesser players would not have persevered like Hargreaves has to come back from the terrible, nagging knee injuries that have limited him to 39 appearances since 2007.
The quality and potential of Owen Hargreaves has kept him at Old Trafford through his injury-layoff, but barring any miracles of recovery, he has more than likely played his last match for Manchester United.