Hargreaves may not be able to play through pain

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The Independent Football

Owen Hargreaves may never be pain-free despite hitting the comeback trail last week.

After 18 months out of action following major operations on both knees, Hargreaves finally got back on the pitch again last Thursday when he turned out for Manchester United's second string at Altrincham.

The 29-year-old is hoping to build on that 45-minute outing against the same opposition at Accrington tomorrow.

However, it is not all plain sailing for Hargreaves.

Renowned Colorado-based surgeon Dr Richard Steadman told the midfielder his knees were in a worse state than he had ever come across in 35 years of practicing.

And, although Hargreaves has reported a vast improvement, he still experiences discomfort and there is a chance he will never be fully clear of the problem.

"I wouldn't say I am pain free and I don't know if I can play through it," said Hargreaves.

"My training has improved over the last weeks and that is a very positive sign for me. I believe that it will continue to improve and progress.

"But I am still in the process of getting some injections to try to manage the pain because if I didn't have any I would have played at the beginning of the season.

"It's about training, getting these injections and trying to go forward."

Having listened to the so-called experts offer their verdict on an injury that first surfaced during his last season at Bayern Munich, Hargreaves managed 25 games during his debut Old Trafford campaign.

Yet as time progressed, he knew the injury was getting worse. It wasn't until he placed his trust in Steadman, who salvaged the careers of Roy Keane and Ruud van Nistelrooy amongst others in his more regular field of cruciate ligaments, that Hargreaves realised how great the extent of the damage truly was.

"Tendons are something that a lot of people think they know about, but don't really," he said.

"My first season at United I had the pain and was able to play through it but basically I shouldn't have been playing.

"In the end, the pain was just too high and I had to have surgery.

"I wouldn't wish it on anyone. There were massive operations, very severe, and a lot of the treatments since have been slightly experimental. You have to try what works."

Even now Hargreaves struggles to explain the exact nature of the problem.

Far more obvious is the frustration felt by the Calgary-born star, who fulfilled a childhood dream when he joined United three years ago, and appeared to have so much in front of him.

"It's difficult to describe the pain. It's just pain," he said.

"At least the surgery did it's job because before the operation my tendons obviously weren't in the greatest condition.

"I would like to progress from this point even more. Hopefully I will be fit this season, and going forward I will be able to play another six, seven or eight years."

Merely getting back out on a pitch last week represented a triumph of sorts.

After all, when you have been out for so long, doubts start to creep in about whether it will ever happen.

"It is only human to think that way," he admitted.

"The longest injury before that was when I broke my leg at Bayern Munich and I was out for a couple of months.

"Football is a physical game and injuries are part of it. But I could never imagine having one that has impacted on me so much.

"I thought - everyone thought - I would be fit for the start of the season. It didn't materialise.

"It has been a pretty humbling experience and I am sure many people doubted me, but anybody who knows me, knows that what I set my mind to, I get."

Judging by Sir Alex Ferguson's forthright reaction to talk of Hargreaves making England's World Cup squad, the latter statement may not be totally accurate.

Hargreaves does have a plan though, and it goes way beyond tomorrow night's reserve game, returning to the first-team, or even going to South Africa this summer.

He wants to be the player that brought him to United's attention in the first place.

"I had better get there," he said. "I am not coming back to just be one of the guys and fill a spot.

"I have never been that way and, if that was case, I would rather walk away.

"I am coming back to have an impact."

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