Owen Hargreaves released by Man City after just four games
'Guinea pig' faces an uncertain future as City romance lasts only nine months
AMID the adulation and accolades heaped on Manchester City and Chelsea in the past ten days, and the gathering anticipation ahead of the imminent European Championships, the other side of professional football was glimpsed on Tuesday. It can be a savage, ruthless game for those who don't measure up - just ask Owen Hargreaves.
The former Bayern Munich, Manchester United and England midfielder has been released by Manchester City just nine months after joining the Sky Blues from Old Trafford. He left United after four unhappy years and later accused the club of treating him like a "guinea pig" as he tried to recover from a succession of injuries.
But that all appeared to be in the past as Hargreaves scored a belter on his debut for the Sky Blues last September. "Romantic" was how we described his performance in helping City beat Birmingham in the Carling Cup, but alas like so many modern romances it didn't last.
Hargreaves played only three more times for the club, managing just one appearance from the bench in the club's triumphant Premier League campaign. The 31-year-old was last seen in a City shirt on January 8 when he played eight minutes of the FA Cup third round tie against his old club United.
Just six years ago Hargreaves – who won 42 caps for his country – was voted England's Player of the Year as well as their Player of the 2006 World Cup. Having risen to prominence with Bayern, for whom he won four Bundesliga titles and the 2001 Champions League crown, Hargreaves made a £19m move to United in the summer of 2007.
Life was good at first for Hargreaves. He played 34 times in his debut season of 2007-08 and helped United win both the Premier League and Champions League. But towards the end of 2008 he began suffering from tendinitis and he underwent surgery on both knees. It was the start of an injury-ravaged three years in which he managed just six minutes of top-flight football.
"With my tendon injury, I've had to be a guinea pig for a lot of these treatments," he said in September 2011. "You're left to try and make something of a difficult situation."
Hargreaves had hoped City would give him a route back into the higher echelons of English football but despite staying injury-free he couldn't break into the club's first-team squad. Nor could the former Barcelona midfielder Gai Assulin, who signed for City in December 2010, and the pair were released on Tuesday along with a gang of young Academy players. "We thank all our departing players for their services to the Club and we wish them the best of luck for the future," said a cursory statement on the City website.
Professional football can be a cruel business.