Would Owen Hargreaves Be Good for Vancouver?

Rare photo: Owen Hargreaves on a soccer field. (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

I don't place a lot of credence in rumours, as you know. For example, I don't have any faith in the ones currently linking former Manchester United and English national team midfielder Owen Hargreaves to the Vancouver Whitecaps. We know Owen was in town before the beginning of the season to try and get into shape and prevent further injury; how'd that work out for him? But, notwithstanding people's "sources" saying Bob Lenarduzzi is giving washed-up midfielders rides from the airport, there's been nothing besides some wishful thinking linking Hargreaves to the Whitecaps.

If you didn't already get the idea, I don't want Vancouver to sign Hargreaves. I don't like him, of course, and haven't ever since he decided to represent England internationally rather than his native-born Canada. But I realize that I'm in the minority of Whitecaps fans in caring fervently for the Canadian national team; the surest way to realize how few Canadians are diehards for the national team is to go to one of their games. There'll be a lot of people who say that club and country are separate and never the twain shall meet, so Hargreaves's international past shouldn't reflect on his future in Vancouver.

Fine. I don't agree with that argument but I understand it. And, taking Hargreaves on his own terms, I don't think he'd be a good signing in Vancouver anyway. Even if his name was Bob Smith and he'd capped a hundred times for Canada, I'd be extremely leery of signing a player in his position. Major League Soccer isn't the English Premier League: the risks that Manchester United can run aren't the same as the risks Vancouver can run. Let Hargreaves get injured on somebody else's time. He's a bad fit for the Whitecaps.

First off, allow me to state the obvious. If Owen Hargreaves signed in Vancouver, and if he stayed healthy, he could probably be a great asset to this team. I say "probably" because he's played so infrequently in the last several years: we don't know where his athleticism is at or if he'll still be able to play the hard-nosed but technical style that made him such a favourite in English silks. But if he could even come close to the level he showed with England and Manchester United, he'd be a key player for Vancouver in a heartbeat. Put him in for Terry Dunfield and all of a sudden this team has a first-class midfield. If he's healthy.

But why on earth should we think he'd be healthy? In the last three English league seasons, Hargreaves has made a combined five appearances in all competitions. Old Trafford has a first-class natural grass surface and Manchester United boasts the best physiotherapists money can buy. The Premier League can be a bit rough-and-tumble but it's certainly more refined than MLS. So how do you think Hargreaves would hold up playing in Vancouver? At Empire Field, he could enjoy our mediocre FIFA one-star artificial turf as he stumbles through the rain. When he moved to BC Place, the rain would be gone and the turf would be two-star but it still wouldn't be the best surface in the world: after all, we're sharing it with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League and that can wreck havoc on soccer playing surfaces. Odds are he'd be training on the same stuff week in, week out. I have no reason to believe Vancouver's physiotherapy department is bad, but as good as Manchester United's? And if Hargreaves does survive all of this he'd run out onto the field and promptly get spiked in the ankle by the likes of Dan Gargan.

Hargreaves becoming healthy in Vancouver would be a miracle. A miracle that Sir Alex Ferguson, who had a lot more loyalty to the player and a lot less to lose, has given up on wishing for. Signing Hargreaves would not only be a mistake for the Whitecaps, but it would probably be an expensive mistake: how much of a salary do you think he'd demand? There aren't many players who'll step from Manchester United to Major League Soccer as anything other than a designated player. If Hargreaves made Jonathan Leathers's money, he might be worth a flyer. Maybe if he'd be willing to play for what Alexandre Morfaw makes - it's not like Morfaw has contributed any more to the MLS first team this year than Hargreaves would. But Eric Hassli money? Or even Jay DeMerit as-close-as-you-can-get-to-being-a-DP-without-actually-being-one money? For a guy with his injury history?

Expensive and oft-injured. That doesn't sound like a recipe for success to me. Hargreaves may be the greatest player in the world, but if he never gets on the field and is sucking up a hefty chunk of our salary cap then he'd be a liability.

Don't think we'd make up the shortfall with Hargreaves's marketing power, either. This isn't Thierry Henry. Hargreaves has been out of major competition for four years now. Even when he was on top of the world, he wasn't a household name like David Beckham. If Hargreaves hardly ever does anything for the Whitecaps besides cash paycheques, how many Hargreaves jerseys are going to get sold? How many reluctant fans are going to come to Whitecaps games because they heard Owen Hargreaves might limp around the field in a pre-game warmup? It certainly wouldn't be enough to justify the expense.

Besides, Vancouver would be a bad choice for Hargreaves himself. It's not the best environment for a player struggling to get over injury, as John Thorrington might be able to explain. The turf is tough and the conditions are mediocre. The travel in MLS is as bad as anywhere in the world. Even if Vancouver offers more money, Hargreaves would probably be better off signing in the English Championship or somewhere else in Europe than coming to Major League Soccer. Someplace where he'd be able to rehabilitate in good conditions with a bit less pressure and try to get back to the top.

Just say no to Owen Hargreaves. It doesn't matter which national team he played for: he doesn't make sense for this team.

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