ALSO ON SLAM!
Tuesday, August 29, 2000
England joins the running to secure services of Calgary teen Owen Hargreaves
By NEIL DAVIDSON -- The Canadian Press
TORONTO -- The competition is heating up for Canadian soccer starlet Owen Hargreaves.
The 19-year-old Bayern Munich midfielder from Calgary, already coveted by Canada and Wales, is currently training with the English under-21 side in advance of Thursday's friendly game against Georgia in Middlesbrough.
Hargreaves was born in Canada but is also eligible to play for both England and Wales because of his parents' bloodlines. He has yet to wear a Canadian jersey but he played for the Welsh youth side two years ago in an exhibition tournament in Northern Ireland. On Thursday, he could represent England.
Under FIFA rules, once a player appears for a country in a FIFA-sanctioned official tournament or qualifying event, he can't play for another. But exhibition games don't count when it comes to eligibility.
"It is too early to make any decisions but it would be fair to say that he did not look out of his depth," England under-21 coach Howard Wilkinson said of the Canadian. "It is exciting for him and for us when a new talent emerges.
"It's also good news for us because the international team in England has got to win football matches, so no stone can be left unturned."
While Wilkinson has assembled a raw roster for the game against Georgia -- half of the 22-man squad has yet to play for the under-21 side -- Hargreaves is still in some elite company.
The roster includes West Ham boy wonder Joe Cole, Manchester City goalkeeper Nicky Wright and Everton forward Francis Jeffers. Nineteen of the 22 players are with Premier League teams.
Hargreaves was invited to train with the team after he was recommended to the English FA by a Premier League scout and a member of the public.
The English FA trumpeted its find in the lead item on its Web site Tuesday under the headline: Hargreaves the Mystery Man.
The Canadian cracked the German champion's first team roster this season and has come on as a substitute in league and cup play. In pre-season play, he saw action against UEFA Cup champion Galatasaray of Turkey and European champion Manchester United.
Hargreaves' rapid rise has taken Canadian officials somewhat by surprise. As a member of the Bayern Munich squad, the Calgary teen is arguably playing at the highest level of any Canadian soccer player worldwide.
"Quite obviously he's an extraordinary talent," said Canadian under-20 coach Paul James, who was frustrated in his attempts to convince Hargreaves to play for his team. "I thinks he's caught us all off guard in terms of how quickly he's made the Bayern Munich first team."
James acknowledges that Hargreaves has passed his team by. The challenge now is to get him to choose Canada over England or Wales.
"Owen is a Canadian, he was born here, lived here," said James, "and I would imagine would look to move back here at some point in his life, I don't know. I hope that the very fact that he is a true Canadian will persuade him to play for us and compete for us. Because we want him to play for Canada."
National team coach Holger Osieck spoke to Hargreaves as recently as a week ago "and had a very positive conversation," according to James.
The national team is currently in Alliston, Ont., preparing for Sunday's crucial World Cup qualifier in Trinidad and Tobago.
Osieck has good ties with Bayern Munich and has kept a close eye on the youngster's progress. In the past, the German native showed little patience towards Hargreaves' reluctance to declare his allegiance. But Hargreaves' success on the pitch seems to have tempered Osieck's attitude.
Still it appears Canada will not wait indefinitely for Hargreaves to make up his mind. An invitation from Osieck could be imminent, especially if the Canadians beat Trinidad and Tobago to earn a lifeline in their World Cup qualifying quest.
That could force Hargreaves to make up his mind.
"Whichever way you look at it, it's going to be controversial and it's going to be a huge issue," said James. "At some point I think it's going to maybe have an impact on the game here. I just hope Owen can realise that he could have a huge impact here."
Welsh under-21 coach Jimmy Shoulder, meanwhile, believes his country is still in the running. He has long courted the Canadian.
"The advantage that we have is that Owen chooses to come and talk to me as a friend rather than as the Welsh manager," he said Tuesday from Cardiff during a break in a golf game with national team manager Mark Hughes. "So that's a big advantage."
Shoulder believes Hargreaves "will keep his options open as long as he thinks he needs to, which is the counsel I've always given him."
But the Welshman believes Canada may be the odd man out.
"If I was a betting man I'd say he would plump for either ourselves or England rather than the Canadian setup. But he'll make his decision in his own time and I'm sure he'll make the right one."