Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

On the Comeback Trail

On the Comeback Trail

One Thomas Haynes Bayly wrote this commonly uttered phrase. No, I never heard of him either. But there is much truth in this statement. These days one way for a footballer to raise his profile, and become a favourite amongst supporters and pundit alike is to take a leave of absence for a couple of games. One might be injured, suspended or just decide that being teased about one’s new haircut is just not worth the hassle. Is the method of gaining plaudits by actually being out on the pitch and enhancing your reputation with outstanding performances old hat at this stage?  Let us take a closer look.

Owen Hargreaves is a very talented footballer. His energy, drive and anticipation compliment a good footballing brain and a decent range of passing. Since his £17 million move from Bayern Munich to Manchester United, he has featured in just 25 Premier League matches. A series of injuries, particularly with both knees, has hampered his spell at Old Trafford. His highly anticipated comeback is scheduled for November, and Manchester United fans are purring at the thought of having Hargreaves back. England boss Fabio Capello has enquired regularly about his well-being, and seems keen to include the Canadian-born midfielder in his World Cup 23.This despite him no playing a single qualifying match thus far.

But how has player, once seen as a favourite of Sven Goran Eriksson, suddenly become such a valuable commodity? He has rarely shone for United, with his best display in the 2008 Champions League Final against Chelsea as a right midfielder. He gave Ashley Cole a torrid evening. But he has not shown enough of his quality in his time at the club in his favoured holding midfield role. A heroic display for England in the World Cup quarter final against Portugal in 2006 won him a place in many England fans hearts. Again playing out of position. Anyone playing in a Champions League Final at the age of 20, as he did for Bayern in 2001, has something going for him. But the question remains, had he been available for the last 12 months, do you think he would have such a reputation?

Spot the Difference

Spot the Difference

After the Grannygate scandal of 2007, we have not seen Stephen Ireland appear for his country since. Possibly the most improved player in the Premier League last season, he scored 13 goals in all competitions from midfield. His intensive training regime of kick-boxing and power-lifting have seen Ireland improve his fitness and stamina. This fitness programme was however called into question last night, after Ireland has brought into hospital Wednesday complaining of dizziness. But, thankfully he has been given the all clear.

The debate has raged back and forth over Ireland’s self-imposed exclusion from the Ireland set-up. There is no doubt that the Manchester City man would improve the Irish squad. He is a unique player, and while one ponders where Giovanni Trappatoni would fit him into his rigid system, I’m sure he would find a way. A player of Ireland’s ability is worth accommodating.

But without him, Ireland are undefeated in their last 10 competitive games. They are on the verge of the World Cup play-offs. This despite the controversy surrounding Stephen’s exclusion every time the squad is announced. We have done just fine without him, and whilst maybe there may be a need for Stephen Ireland in the future, there is no need to upset the apple cart now. Many players in the Irish set-up have praised the atmosphere in the squad. Damien Duff says it is the tightest Ireland squad he has been involved with in over 10 years as an international, whilst Stephen Hunt hinted in a recent interview that the Cobh-man would not be welcomed back to the squad with open arms. This is one story that will not go away.

I doubt there are too many more stylish centre-halves around at present than Liverpool’s Daniel Agger. The Danish international is a huge favourite at Anfield, and has a calmness and composure on the ball rarely seen in the hurly-burly nature of top-flight football in England. Currently missing due to a back complaint, Agger’s comeback is considered even more vital with Jamie Carragher’s poor start to the season. Get Agger back fit, and partner him with Martin Skrtel. Carragher could be used as back-up, lending his knowledge and experience to his two younger team-mates.

All fine in theory, but it does not work like this in practise. Agger has been at Liverpool for almost 4 years, and in this time has only managed 79 appearances, due to a horrendous run of injuries. Since a metatarsal injury suffered against Sunderland in August 2007, he has struggled to put a run of games together. He cannot be relied upon to stay fit, but such is his ability,  Rafael Bentiez sticks with him. A lesser player would not be afforded so many opportunities.

As for his partnership with Skrtel, they have only played together once, against Tottenham in the final game of last season. Carragher was right-back that day. The Scouser is the voice of the Liverpool defence. His orders can be heard above 45,000 people on matchdays at Anfield. It’s his organisational, as much as his physical attributes that seem to be failing him at present. So Agger must force his way back into the side, but I, for one, doubt it will be at Carraghers expense.

It can work the opposite way as well. That by actually doing one’s job, and playing football, one can ruin all their good work with one poor performance. Scott Carson will testify to this. He was drafted in to play for England in their infamous 3-2 defeat to Croatia in 2007. Once Niko Kranjcar’s speculative shot deceived him in the 4th minute, the finger of blame was pointed at the goalkeeper. At the time, Carson will keeping goal for an improving Aston Villa side, who had gentleman’s agreement with Liverpool to buy Carson at the end of his loan spell for £10 million. However after his Croatian nightmare, Carson lost his confidence and form, and is now at Championship West Brom. Had he not been selected for Steve McClaren’s final game as England manager, where would he be now?

Whilst there is evidence that their respective teams do miss the individuals mentioned above, it seems that the longer they are unavailable, the better they get. But as Lionel Messi, Cristanio Ronaldo, Steven Gerrard and Samuel Eto’o prove on an almost weekly basis, the best way to get noticed and earn the approval of the chattering classes is to go out onto the pitch, and leave people with no doubt of the talent you possess. Over to you lads….

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