There are few partings at Manchester United that are painless.
David Beckham was consigned to the icy half-life of a substitute. Roy Keane was sacked and even Bryan Robson was dropped for what would have been his farewell game, the 1994 FA Cup final. None has been quite as painful as Owen Hargreaves's, though.
Manchester United are not a club that issues statements whenever one of its former players comments on their time at Old Trafford. However, although Hargreaves, whose goal on his debut for Manchester City had something of Hollywood about it, stressed that his remarks were not motivated by bitterness, they have drawn blood.
His allegations that United treated his knee injury in a way that worsened his condition and that the club knew he was unfit before his final, disastrous match that saw him break down after five minutes against Wolverhampton Wanderers were yesterday emphatically denied.
In their statement, Manchester United said: "The club gave him the best possible care for three years and is as disappointed as anyone he was not able to play a part in the team's success at that time.
"It has shared all the medical records with Manchester City and is comfortable with the actions taken by itsmedical staff at each step of his many attempts at rehabilitation. United does not acknowledge any validity in the comments Owen is alleged to have made. Manchester United has some of the best medical staff in world sport, who have made a significant contribution to United's on-pitch success in recent seasons."
The club felt unable to answer Hargreaves's accusations point by point as that may have been construed as a breach of patient confidentiality. When Sir Alex Ferguson was asked about Hargreaves directly yesterday the United manager was initially reluctant to go into details before embarking on a passionate defence of his medical team.
"I am not going into that because it's not worth it," he said. "It is absolutely not worth it. I have got a great medical staff. Do you think Alex Ferguson would have a bad medical staff? Do you think I would allow that? Absolutely no chance.
"The club has to be successful and they have to have the best people in the best positions to be successful and that is what we have got. We have been trying to analyse all the stuff he came out with. As far as I am concerned, my medical staff are one of the reasons why Manchester United have been so successful over the last few years.
"Do you think we would have been successful if we didn't have an operation that was not 100 per cent anddidn't work absolutely brilliantly? That is my opinion on Manchester United and that's more important than what anyone else has got to say about it."
Perhaps the saddest aspect of his four years at United was that Hargreaves's signing from Bayern Munich had promised so much. Both as a person and as a footballer, he is highly intelligent, the one positive to have emerged from England's limp retreat from the World Cup in Germany in 2006.
In his first season at Old Trafford he won both the Premier League and the European Cup, although, significantly, he said he had felt his knee even during his medical and it was to grow worse. He said United's attempts to treat his tendonitis by injecting glucose into the ligament to stimulate growth "made me feel like a guinea pig."
United would not speculate whether he had told the club he was not fit when asked to start against Wolves at Old Trafford last November. Ferguson at the time described his coming off with a hamstring injury as "a disaster" but it is possible to reconstruct a little of what happened just before he went out on to the pitch for the final time as a Manchester United footballer.
Surgery in Colorado at the hands of the world-renowned Dr Richard Steadman, who thought his knees were among the worst he had seen, meant Hargreaves had not started a game since the 1-1 draw at Chelsea 26 months before. In his pre-match press conference, Ferguson had given no indication the midfielder was to return, although acknowledging that he was progressing well.
However, on the morning of the match, Ryan Giggs reported a tight hamstring that Ferguson considered "too big a risk". Paul Scholes felt unwell and Hargreaves ran out to a standing ovation.
Ferguson remarked afterwards that Hargreaves "had been training very well and the doctor thought he was fit to play." He added that the injury might have been partly psychosomatic. "Possibly he broke down because of a lack of match fitness," he said in the strangely grim aftermath of a 2-1 win. "Maybe a bit of anxiety at playing his first game had a bit to do with it, too."
Hargreaves said on Wednesday night that the club knew he was carrying a hamstring injury but that he wanted to play and imagined he could get through the match "without sprinting". In retrospect he added that he wished he had insisted to Ferguson that he could not play. His hamstring lasted a few minutes before it gave way and he returned to the dressing room humiliated and in tears.
When at Bayern Munich he had broken his leg he responded to the boredom and frustration by getting into his Porsche and driving along the autobahns, autoroutes and autopistas and not stopping until he reached Spain's Mediterranean coast. Now, he felt he had nowhere else to go.
In fact, resurrection lay five miles away.
The United Statement
Manchester United is disappointed with Owen Hargreaves' remarks after the game on Wednesday. The club gave him the best possible care for three years and is as disappointed as anyone he was not able to play a part in the team's success at that time. It has shared all the medical records with Manchester City and is comfortable with the actions taken by its medical staff at each step of his many attempts at rehabilitation.
United does not acknowledge any validity in the comments Owen is alleged to have made.
Manchester United has some of the best sports medical staff in world sport, who have made a significant contribution to United's on-pitch success in recent seasons.Reuse content