Hargreaves: The Rise and Fall of Owen, Part I

AN EXCELLENT DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER, Owen Hargreaves quickly made his mark at Bayern Munich. Viewed highly by the Bavarians, he made himself famous around the world with an assured display against Real Madrid in the 2000/01 UEFA Champions League Semi Final.

Owen Lee Hargreaves was born on January 20, 1981 to an English father and a Welsh mother and raised in Calgary, Alberta. Growing up in Canada it was ice hockey, not football, which first caught Owen’s interests. However, he did spend some years playing football for the Calgary Foothills.

It was during this time that scouts from Europe were in town. After watching him, German giants FC Bayern Munich invited to trial with them. Following a successful trial period, Bayern proceeded to sign the young player and Owen took his place in their Under 19 side.

Owen’s early days at the German club were not easy. He was homesick, as well as the obvious in not being able to speak the language. Owen only had a David Beckham poster to keep him happy. “I was 16 years old and I’d just come to Munich from Calgary,” said Owen. “I was staying in this youth hostel at the club, I couldn’t speak a word of German and I ate nothing but schnitzel for the first six months. Life was pretty hard and lonely but I had Beckham on my wall.”

As he was receiving his football education at Bayern, Owen quickly learned how to speak German. His football talent shone through and he quickly became a star in the making. After losing the German Championship Final with the Under 19 side in 1998, against Borussia Dortmund, he went on to establish himself in the first team under Ottmar Hitzfield in the 2000/01 season.

It was in August 2000 of that season that Owen received his first taste of senior football. Bayern Munich were up against Hertha BSC Berline and Hitzfield introduced Owen as an 83rd substitute. He came on to replace Carsten Jancker and following this, it was only a little over a month later when Owen made his first full start against SpVgg Unterhaching.

Owen’s career began to climb an upward trajectory. In the 2001/02 UEFA Champions League Semi Final, Hargreaves was given his starting debut in this competition. He was replacing Stefan Effenberg, and against European Legends Real Madrid no less.

Many thought it was crazy to give a young player a start in such an important game. But Owen didn’t disappoint. Owen excelled and displayed a maturity beyond his years, as if he was already a veteran. Bayern Munich went on to win the tie, also going on to win the UEFA Champions League Final that season too, where Owen was rewarded with another start.

Owen Hargreaves, aged 20 here, celebrating Bayern's UEFA Champions League victory.

Owen Hargreaves, aged 20 here, celebrating Bayern’s UEFA Champions League victory.

Owen’s debut season in Bayern Munich’s first team was a successful one. He secured two winners medals; one for Bayern’s domestic title in the Bundesliga and the other courtesy of the Bavarians’ triumph in the UEFA Champions League. Owen’s success in the UEFA Champions League was a historic one. He became only the second Englishman, behind Steve McManaman, to win the UEFA Champions League with a non-English club.

After being rather successful in the early part of his career, Owen’s first encounter with injury occurred in the 2002/03 season. In September he tore his thigh muscle and towards the end of the season, he also had abductor problems. The latter injury kept him out of action for three weeks but he still managed to accumulate 25 appearances for the Bavarians.

Overall Owen spent seven successful seasons in Germany, all with FC Bayern Munich. In seven seasons, he amassed four Bundesliga titles (2000/01, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2005/06), the 2000/01 UEFA Champions League, the Intercontinental Cup in 2001, three DFB Pokal titles (2002/03, 2004/05, 2005/06) and appeared well over 200 times.

Owen Hargreaves being consoled by Gary Neville.

Owen Hargreaves being consoled by Gary Neville.

Owen Hargreaves was blessed with multiple options when it came to international football. Having an English father and Welsh mother, he was eligible for either England or Wales. He was also eligible to represent Canada, having grown up in the country. Amazingly he was also just short of living in Germany for the minimum amount of time to be also eligible to represent Germany.

It was in 1998 where Owen first got his taste of international football. He was picked to represent the country of his mother, Wales, at the Milk Cup. Owen was all set to then make his debut for the Welsh Under-21 side against Belarus in September of 2000. However he removed himself from the squad as England had approached him to play for the Three Lions.

In August of 2000, then England Under-21 Manager Howard Wilkinson called the 19 year old Owen into his squad. He was set to make his debut for the English against Georgia at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough. England won the game comfortably 6:1 and Hargreaves went on to make further appearances for the Under-21 side in friendly fixtures against Italy and Spain.

One year later, Owen had received his opportunity to debut with the senior England team. In August 2001, he debuted for England against the Netherlands at White Hart Lane. As he did with Bayern in their UEFA Champions League victory in 2002, he added to another piece of history with his first appearance for England. He became only the second player to appear for England without having played in English league football.

Additionally, Owen’s debut with England created a fresh, new piece of history. He became the first player to appear for England without having ever played in Britain.

In only his second England cap, Owen came on as a substitute against Germany. It was this game in which England experienced one of their finer moments in football, winning 5:1 in the Olympiastadion in Germany.

Following on from this, Owen was the only player selected playing outside of the English Premier League for England’s 2002 FIFA World Cup squad. However injury blighted his debut World Cup campaign. Owen was injured only fifteen minutes in during England’s second group match of the tournament and had to be substituted.

Owen was unable to cement a regular starting spot with England. He was regularly selected though, for the English squads that competed at EURO 2004 and the FIFA World Cup in 2006.

Owen’s selections with England came with a cloud of criticism. English fans believed Owen had a certain “German-ness,” compounded by the fact that he was fluent in German in addition to his Canadian accent. In spite of this, Owen was considered one of the few success stories in the English squad, in a team which was generally viewed as having underachieved.

In the Quarter Final at the FIFA World Cup, Owen was named as Man of the Match against Portugal. England lost the fixture on penalties, with Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher all missing their penalties; Owen scored his.

He went on to win the England Player of the Year and England Player of the World Cup in 2006 in official FA polls, becoming the first player to win both in the same year.

When Owen signed for Manchester City in 2011, then-England manager Fabio Capello was hopeful that he would return to full fitness. Owen had suffered from injury after injury in the previous few seasons at Manchester United and Capello viewed a fully-fit Owen as an important cog within the English squad. “I hope he will be really good in the short-term for Manchester City and also for England,” said Capello.

Continued in Hargreaves: The Rise and Fall of Owen, Part II


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