Hargreaves: I'm eager to get back
Manchester United and England midfielder Owen Hargreaves took his first tentative steps on the road to full fitness tonight and declared he had some "unfinished business" to attend to.
Hargreaves has been sidelined for 18 months with a chronic tendinitis problem he did not feel was adequately dealt with when it was first diagnosed. He subsequently underwent surgery on both knees under the guidance of renowned Colorado-based knee specialist Dr Richard Steadman.
The 29-year-old came back to United's Carrington training complex, since when it has been an agonisingly slow process just to reach the point of making a 45-minute appearance in the Red Devils' reserve side's 2-0 win over Burnley at Altrincham's Moss Lane ground this evening.
"Absolutely it's unfinished business," said Hargreaves. "I had a very successful time at Bayern Munich and won everything. But I wanted a change. I wanted a challenge. I wanted to play for Manchester United. I wanted to come here and win the Champions League. We did that but I didn't really celebrate that season in Moscow.
"I was disappointed that I'd missed games. Although I had an impact, it wasn't as big as I would have wanted," he went on. "I am 29 but hopefully I have a lot of time left in football and those dreams can become reality."
Hargreaves arrived from Bayern with the tendinitis problem but completed around half United's games during that first season, including that famous Champions League final win over Chelsea in the Luzhniki Stadium.
Little did he know he was making the injury much worse. "Not everybody's right and people make mistakes. That's part of life," he said. "Ideally they don't involve you. When they do, you aren't too happy about it. In the end I missed two full seasons for Man United. I came here with high expectations for myself, and from the club's side of it, and the fans. To not to be able to play from 27 to 29 is incredibly disappointing."
With time running out, it seems unlikely Hargreaves could mount a serious bid to play in this summer's FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa. Yet he has not entirely ruled the prospect out, even if, realistically, he would have to be pushing for a first-team recall within a couple of weeks. "Well it's there," he said of the target. "How it will materialise I don't know. I would love to have the opportunity to play again but I will have to see how I progress and just take it day by day. If I'm there, I'm there and I would love to help. If I'm not, I'm not."
Hargreaves' more realistic aim is to get another reserve team outing under his belt, possibly against Burnley at Accrington in seven days' time. After what he has been through, it is perhaps understandable the Calgary-born star does not want to push his body too much.
"I could never have imagined it I could have been out for 18 months," he said. "This was the first step in what has been an incredibly long ordeal and I am very happy to be back. It was nice to play in a match with a referee and proper opponents on a proper pitch. I have been doing everything on my own so it has been nice having people around again.
"Ideally I would like to play as soon as possible," he added. "That has been my target from day one and I have geared my rehabilitation around that. Obviously it didn't materialise that way and you have to re-evaluate."