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03rd Feb 2023

Alex Ferguson on how Owen Hargreaves was ‘one of the most disappointing’ signings he made for Man United

Charlie Herbert

“He was very hail-fellow-well-met. Almost too nice.”

Alex Ferguson believes that Owen Hargreaves was ‘one of the most disappointing’ transfers he made during his time as Manchester United manager.

In his 26 years as Red Devils coach, the Scot made over 100 signings and most of them worked out well. Ferguson displayed excellent instincts for bargain signings who went on to become legendary players, such as Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel and Denis Irwin.

The Scot, however, also wasn’t afraid to spend big on players, and broke the British transfer record on five separate occasions, when he signed Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastian Veron and Rio Ferdinand.

Ferguson also got it wrong on occasion and considers Hargreaves to be one of the most disappointing transfer he made during his time at Old Trafford.

Alex Ferguson Owen Hargreaves

In 2007, Man United signed Hargreaves, then 25, from Bayern Munich for £17m. Along with Michael Carrick, who was signed from Tottenham Hotspur the previous summer, Ferguson saw the England midfielder as a player to fill the void left by Keane. The Irishman left Old Trafford in November 2005.

Hargreaves had made over 200 appearances for Bayern and was part of the team that won four Bundesliga titles and the Champions League. He had also been part of England’s squad at the World Cup and was named the team’s player of the year for 2006.

A dynamic, energetic and versatile player, Hargreaves impressed in his first season at Old Trafford, making 34 appearances and scoring twice as Man United won the Premier League and the Champions League. In the Champions League final penalty shootout, he expertly dispatched his penalty as United beat Chelsea in Moscow.

Alex Ferguson Owen Hargreaves

“He could play right-back, wide right or central midfield,” Ferguson said in his second autobiography.

“I played him wide right in the 2008 final against Chelsea, and when we started to struggle against their midfield three, I put him in the middle of the park with (Wayne) Rooney wide right and it worked… Hargreaves was fantastic for England at the 2006 World Cup, plugging gaps, racing to the ball.”

Yet, the Canadian-born midfielder only made another five appearances for Man United after that night in Moscow due to injury and fitness issues.

Hargreaves underwent surgery on both of his knees and suffered from tendinitis in his knee. In his final three years at Old Trafford, he played just 186 minutes of first-team football and left the club after his contract expired.

Hargreaves then joined Manchester City on a one-year deal but made just four appearances before retiring in 2012 at age 31.

Ferguson later said that he was unsure about signing the midfielder from Bayern Munich in 2007 and that he felt Hargreaves lacked the ‘confidence’ to overcome his injury issues.

“I didn’t feel a strong vibe about him,” Ferguson wrote in his 2013 autobiography.

“I look back less fondly on our move for Owen Hargreaves, who was phenomenal in the summer of 2006 and was just the type of player we needed to fill the gap left by Keane.

“We started to put together a bid for him, but I studied his playing record and felt a tinge of doubt. I didn’t feel a strong vibe about him.

“David Gill (United’s former chief executive) worked hard on the deal with Bayern. I met Owen’s agent at the World Cup final in Berlin. Nice man, a lawyer. I told him we could develop Hargreaves at United. It turned out to be a disaster.

“Owen had no confidence in himself whatsoever. He didn’t show nearly enough determination to overcome his physical difficulties, for my liking. I saw him opt for the easy choice too often in terms of training. He was one of the most disappointing signings of my career.”

Ferguson also detailed the player’s exhaustive and lengthy attempts to overcome his injury issues. Hargreaves made several unsuccessful attempts to return to action for Man United

“He went everywhere in search of cures for his various injuries: Germany, America, Canada,” Ferguson wrote.

“I felt he lacked the confidence to overcome his injuries. It went from bad to worse. He was away in America for the best part of a year. He saw Hans Müller-Wohlfahrt, the club doctor at Bayern Munich, for his calf.

“In the games he did actually play, I had no qualms about his contribution. He was lightning-quick and a great set-piece deliverer.”

Hargreaves, who became a football pundit after retiring, criticised how Man United handled his injury issues.

“I’ve had to be a guinea pig for a lot of these treatments,” he told The Guardian in September 2011, after signing for Man City.

“But when you’re left to try to make something of a difficult situation, it’s not really an option to say, ‘Let’s sit it out and rest for six months’.

“We treated it and it got significantly worse through the injections. That obviously had a huge impact. Basically, I was left to pick up the pieces, which was incredibly frustrating.”

Ferguson was not pleased with Hargreaves’ version of events and said that Man United took ‘legal advice’ about the player’s comments. The former Red Devils manager said that Hargreaves ‘created his own agenda.’

“One of his allegations was that we picked him for the Wolves game in early November 2010 when he had asked not to be selected,” Ferguson wrote.

“Rubbish. Three weeks before that fixture, he had advised us that he would be ready for such and such a date, which happened to be a European tie. I was reluctant to bring him back in a European game after he had been out for so long. There was a reserve game that week, which he was meant to play in, but he withdrew.

“In the week of the Wolves game, to my knowledge, he said nothing to our staff to indicate he had a problem. My concern, which I expressed to Mick Phelan, was that he would pick up an injury in the warm-up. My understanding was that he told one of the players he was feeling his hamstring a bit.

“When he came in from the warm-up, I specifically asked him: ‘Are you all right?’ I said it to reassure him. My message was: enjoy it. Well, he lasted five minutes. His hamstring went. But it was no surprise.”

Ultimately, Ferguson said that he was never sure about Hargreaves, and maintained that Man United did everything they could to get him back from injury. He believes that the player lacked the ‘confidence’ to make it back on the pitch.

“I would say to him, ‘How are you this morning?'” Ferguson wrote

“‘Great, boss,’ he would reply. ‘But I think I’ll do something on my own. I’m feeling it a bit.’

“When I signed him, there was something about him I didn’t like. The thing every good leader should have is an instinct. Mine said to me: ‘I don’t fancy this.’

“When he came over to Old Trafford for the medical, I still had some indefinable doubt. He was very hail-fellow-well-met. Almost too nice.”

Hargreaves said that he was ‘surprised’ by Ferguson’s comments in his autobiography, but has refrained from hitting back at the former United manager.

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