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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Sep 18, 2006

Hargreaves injury poses problem for McClaren

Steve McClaren may like to lure Paul Scholes out of international retirement but that will not solve his most pressing injury problem.

As so often happens with England, the team has lost the player who appears most difficult to replace.

It is less than a fortnight before McClaren names his squad for the Euro 2008 double-header against Macedonia and Croatia and Owen Hargreaves is out with a broken leg.

Hargreaves will not be fit for next month's games and is unlikely to be back for the friendly against Holland in November.

This rules him out until the international calendar restarts next year with a friendly in February.

His next competitive game for England will be away to Israel in March.

It is a huge blow to McClaren because his new-look England relied heavily on the presence of the energetic anchorman, who was outstanding in the World Cup finals.

The early signs from McClaren's reign were that the presence of Hargreaves as a fixture in midfield had liberated Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

After so long as a substitute, he has quickly become the key man, pivotal to the balance of the team.

Michael Carrick is the obvious replacement, someone who can slot in without altering the shape of the team.

Carrick's natural game is to sit in front of the centre-halves but he is a passer not a tackler and does not offer the team the same security as Hargreaves.

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson felt the need to replace him with John O'Shea yesterday as he sought a plan to break up Arsenal's fluid pass-and-move style.

Newcastle's Scott Parker may be a better option for McClaren.

Parker is in good form and he will certainly give the midfield bite but his aggressive style and lack of extra pace often deterred Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Spurs defender Ledley King is another - although the success of Hargreaves has suggested the role is best suited to a genuine midfielder rather than a converted defender.

Phil Neville and Nigel Reo-Coker are other candidates but Scholes is definitely not one.

A recall for Scholes will merely confuse a midfield already awash with players who like to break forward from central areas.

His return would only complicate the roles of Gerrard and Lampard.

Scholes has started the season well but McClaren, despite his close connection with the United player, suspects he would be unlikely to accept any offer to return to the England fold.

One player who would jump at the chance of a recall is David Beckham but that is also highly unlikely.

McClaren grasped the nettle of the Beckham issue at the very start of his reign and will not want to turn back.

Beckham, in his more mature years, may be more suited to a holding role than the right wing but the Real Madrid midfielder is realistic enough to admit his England days are probably over.

Aaron Lennon will also be absent from McClaren's next squad after a knee operation and Joe Cole may not be fit after aggravating a knee injury last week.

The England boss may use the injuries to experiment with three at the back.

He has talked of his desire to try a system with wing-backs and the injury to Hargreaves may force his hand.