Hargreaves comes of age

The 2006 World Cup appeared to be Owen Hargreaves' big breakthrough, as he impressed while England struggled. He largely managed to win over the critics and when England returned to action after the World Cup with a friendly against Greece, he had earned a starting place ON MERIT, writes ANDY HAMPSON.

A hard-working midfielder, Owen Hargreaves won over a sceptical English public to emerge as one of the best players in his country's disappointing World Cup campaign.

The Canadian-raised player has never lived in England but has excelled in Bayern's successful side and is now attracting strong interest from Barclays English Premier League giants Manchester United.

Hargreaves was born in Calgary shortly after his parents Colin and Margaret migrated to Canada. He was taught football by his father, a former Bolton player, and excelled as a junior with a club called Cedar Ridge Jacks, which later merged with Calgary Foothills FC.

He represented Alberta at Under-15 level and a chance viewing by a coach with Bayern Munich connections led to him signing for the German club at the age of 16.

He rose through the ranks at Bayern and made his Bundesliga debut at 19 in 2000. He enjoyed a meteoric rise in an outstanding season for the club. Bayern won the Bundesliga and the Champions League and, when he featured, Hargreaves caught the eye at the heart of their midfield. His busy and energetic performance against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final was particularly impressive and brought him widespread attention in England for the first time, although he had already played for the national Under-21 side.

He became a regular in the Bayern side the following season and was called up by England. There had been interest from Canada and he could have played for Wales through his mother, but he chose to represent the country of his father.

He did enough to earn a place in the 2002 World Cup squad, although injury curtailed his involvement.

Hargreaves has since become a key member of the Bayern side, winning further league titles in 2003, 2005 and, as part of the double, in 2006. Such conspicuous success left Hargreaves wondering what more he could do while playing in Germany to prove to English supporters that he was worth his place in the national squad.

His international career to date has been a stop-start affair and he has only had limited opportunities to make his mark.

The midfield talents of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole have largely confined him to a peripheral role even though he was consistently named in squads throughout manager Sven-Goran Eriksson's recently-concluded five-year reign.

The 2006 World Cup appeared to be his big breakthrough, as he impressed while England struggled. He largely managed to win over the critics and when England returned to action after the World Cup with a friendly against Greece, he had earned a starting place on merit.

Just to prove it, he was named Man of the Match in the 4-0 win.

Hargreaves faced all manner of criticism ahead of the World Cup this summer simply because he had been given a place in the squad. Some of that was qualified by claims that he was just superfluous to requirements rather than unworthy, but generally he was slammed as a bad choice.

Hargreaves took all the negative press well and was determined to prove himself if he got the chance. He did just that and shone, especially in England's quarter-final loss to Portugal on penalties.

It must have been satisfying for him to read a number of the pundits who castigated his inclusion offering apologies.

Hargreaves' girlfriend Janelle Khouri was conspicuous by her absence from the England camp at the World Cup. While the rest of the players' wives and girlfriends — or WAGS as the media dubbed them — attracted a media circus near the team's base in Baden-Baden, Janelle chose to stay at home in Munich. Janelle is also a professional footballer and has played for the Canada Under-20 side.

Hargreaves owns a flashy, and rare, Ascari KZ1 sportscar. The sleek car retails at around GBP235,000, and its powerful BMW-derived engine propels it at speeds of up to 200mph. It does 0-60 in just 3.7 seconds and has a six-speed manual gearbox.

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