Hargreaves gamble is one worth taking
With England's central midfield options looking increasingly limited, TEAMtalk's Ian Watson claims Owen Hargreaves should go to the World Cup. Whether it is a shock inclusion or a stunning omission, there is usually one surprise when the England squad is named ahead of the finals of a major championship. Despite having 42 caps to his name, Hargreaves could yet be the name that raises everyone's eyebrows when Fabio Capello submits his 23-man party on May 30. Capello has always insisted that players will be picked solely on form and fitness, and in that case, I'm more likely than the Manchester United midfielder to be on plane. But Hargreaves' first step onto a Premier League pitch in 20 months last weekend may have come just in time for Capello to go back on those words. Okay, with his lack of action, it would take a brave manager to include Hargreaves. But Capello has shown time and time again that he has the balls to make decisions that may seem strange to those on the outside looking in. It would be seen as a gamble but with so few other holding-midfield options, Capello has little to lose by including Hargreaves. With concerns now over Gareth Barry's fitness; Michael Carrick and perhaps Tom Huddlestone are the only other candidates for the role, but none of that trio offer what Hargreaves does. Barry, Carrick and Huddlestone are well suited to that deep-lying role in games when England have a lot of the ball. But up against the better teams in the tournament, anyone of that trio are likely to be given the run-around, especially if Capello favours a four-man midfield. Hargreaves' relentless running, discipline and positional awareness offers genuine protection to John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. Given their own form and fitness issues, they are going to need it. Those who disagree with his inclusion will point to Hargreaves non-contribution to United's campaign so far but the fact that he isn't coming off the back of a 40-50-game season might be seen as a good thing. Sir Alex Ferguson certainly cannot be accused of rushing the former Bayern Munich man back too soon, so the United boss must be convinced of his health and fitness levels to have included him on the bench for the wins against Tottenham and Sunderland. Hargreaves - whose versatility could also sway Capello - has been training with the first-team squad for the last couple of months and his recent bench roles suggest he has got over the mental barriers that were reportedly holding him back. After two friendlies, England's campaign kicks off in five weeks, but Hargreaves is not likely to be crucial to Capello's plans in the group stages. That gives him seven weeks and potentially five games to get right to meet the likes of Spain, Holland and Brazil; all of whom have opened up England with worrying ease in recent friendlies. Recent history, or more specifically, Nicky Butt and Hargreaves himself have proved how vital the holding role is on the biggest stage for England. Just as important as keeping the ball when you have it is winning it back when you don't and in his absence, no-one has showed themselves capable of doing what Hargreaves does. That fact will not escape Capello before he selects his final squad later this month.
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