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Hargreaves article 
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(I play football with Dan, and an interesting insight into our new player) ... 579277.ece

How we met: Owen Hargreaves & Dan Freedman
'When you're thrust into incredibly high-pressure situations, you develop a trust'
Published: 27 May 2007

Footballer Owen Hargreaves, 26, was born in Canada to British parents. Signed to Bayern Munich aged 16, he is now set to join Manchester United. Since his international debut in 2001, when he was poorly received by some England fans, he has picked up 39 caps and was voted FA England Player of the Year 2006.

Although I was born and raised in Canada, most of my dad's family lives in Bolton and I grew up in a very English household. We had Sunday dinners and loved football. My dad and my older brothers played in Calgary - my dad still plays in over-50's matches - and we would spend all our holidays playing in tournaments. I also remember sitting in front of the telly through the early hours of the morning to watch England matches. I never even dreamed that I would play for them.

I first met Dan when I broke into the first team in 2001. He used to do a little column for the FA website and would call me once a week. I got along well with him straight away. With players and staff, the England team is huge and there are always people coming and going. But when you meet at games - especially when you're away for long periods - you can get to know people really well.

At the World Cup in Germany we had a lovely hotel in Baden-Baden. Dan and I would spend time sitting around having a drink on the balcony. Those are the times when you get to know each other better and talk about things apart from football.

It was also great to have people like Dan around when things got difficult and people questioned my place in the team. Having played for a big club like Bayern, I was used to attention - and I was expecting it to be huge with England - but it was still hard sometimes. It's so important to have people around to support you, even though on the outside you don't want to show weakness.

Obviously I wish everything had been positive but in a way it put me in a position where I had to respond. I saw it as a test. When everything's great it's easy for any footballer but it's the moments when times are tough and everything's against you that you really get to know yourself. And the only way to change the situation is to keep your head down and play football. If I hadn't played well on the pitch, I could have said what I wanted but it wouldn't have changed a thing. Although it was a personal challenge, it was great to have the support and encouragement of people like Dan.

We haven't yet met outside football because neither of us have a lot of time on our hands, but I know we'll stay friends now he has left the FA. There aren't many faces at the FA who are the same as when I joined. It's one of the things you get used to, but it doesn't mean Dan and I can't keep in touch, because we've formed a really good friendship over the years.

Dan Freedman, 29, joined the FA in 2000 and travelled the world with the national squad as England correspondent for the Now he's turning his hand to children's fiction with The Kick Off, the first in his series charting the rise of young football talent Jamie Johnson.

My first FA job was to open all emails and letters from the public. One message from an England fan living in Germany said he'd seen a great young player called Owen Hargreaves at Bayern Munich. He told us to have a look at him quickly because he was also eligible for Canada, Germany and Wales.

We forwarded it to the technical department and within a couple of months, Owen had been called up to the England under-21 squad. Six months later he made his full debut against Holland.

I first met him at the same game, when I started as England correspondent for the FA website. What struck me straight away was that Owen's whole persona and demeanour was completely different to a lot of other players. He was only 20 but he was incredibly confident and independent. I think he had been forced to grow up fast when he left Canada. I can't imagine what it must have been like for a 16-year-old lad to go off to Germany by himself with the aim of becoming a professional footballer.

Owen's also a good guy to have around when you're staying in a hotel over a World Cup for up to six weeks at a time. It's really nice to have people who you can sit down with and have a coffee or play a game of pool with. And when you're thrust into incredibly high pressure situations like that, you develop a trust with the players and staff.

I think Owen needed that early in his England career, because he had a tough time. He had only played in Canada and Germany, so a lot of the England fans didn't know how good he was and would criticise him and even boo him. I couldn't understand it, especially because he's a player who is such a professional and a genuinely nice guy.

But what's great about Owen is that he'll take everything in his stride. And he always comes out to talk to the press. Playing football is a very different discipline to dealing with 20 or 30 journalists, so a lot of players like to be briefed and chaperoned. I asked Owen about it and he just said, without any arrogance, "To be honest Dan, I've never had a question I don't feel comfortable answering."

I was so happy for Owen when everything turned around for him at the World Cup in Germany. In the quarter-final against Portugal, when we went down to 10 men, he was fantastic. He took responsibility and did the running of three people. He scored the only goal and was Fifa man of the match. Suddenly he was a wanted man by the press, and people around the world could see what a player he is. s

'The Kick Off!' by Dan Freedman is published by Scholastic Books on 4 June priced £4.99

Sat Jun 23, 2007 12:46 pm
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