He's the man touted by some as the next England captain and Owen Hargreaves certainly possesses several of the qualities needed to fulfil the responsibilities of the role. Always committed, intelligent and a dynamic presence in the centre of midfield, the Manchester United man was a surprise omission from Fabio Capello's first starting line-up from England's 2-1 victory over Switzerland at Wembley last Wednesday evening.
The 27-year-old had to be content with just under 20 minutes as a substitute, but showed some nice touches during his cameo appearance. Following the match, FIFA.com caught up with the former Bayern Munich star, who was quick to praise his new Italian manager and outline his belief that England will be one of the 32 teams present at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa.
FIFA.com: Owen, last week you spent a few days in the company of Fabio Capello. What did you think of him? Owen Hargreaves: The first impressions were very good. He's obviously got a great reputation and so much respect in the game for being one of the best club managers around and I think he can only help us in moving forward. We have a good team and talented individuals, but we need to improve if we're going to make our mark on the world stage. Given the quality of footballers we have in the squad, we should be able to produce more than we have in the past.
*What do you think he will bring to English football? * I think he has a recipe for success, which is clear. That is based on discipline and hard work - both in training and on the pitch. Certain guidelines need to be followed - and that is good. Everyone in the country wants England to be successful: the fans, the media and the players, and if he can help us do that by changing a few things, that would be fantastic. If you look at his first squad from the one we had last time, it's a very similar squad. It's a talented squad, but the fact that we didn't get to the European championships suggests that changes have to be made.
What were the feelings in the dressing room after the win over Switzerland?
Any time you win, there is a positive feeling. I think there are a lot of things that we can do to improve and work on. I think that under a new manager there are a lot of changes and I know that in the future we'll have more time to work on things. Last week was just a three-day trip, but in that time he put out a blueprint of how he wants to do things and I hope we can be very successful in his approach.
*After the game, the manager spoke to the press about some players feeling nervous about playing at Wembley. Is that something that affects you? * Well, there is pressure in every game you play, for your club or country. It's part and parcel of your career. To be honest, it might affect some of the younger players, as it does take some getting used to, but I think most of the players in the squad are used to playing at the new Wembley now. For me, it's the occasion rather than the location which is important. If you can play in a World Cup or a Champions League final, you should be able to cope with a friendly at your home ground. I don't think anyone should be nervous about that.
*There is a lot of competition for places in the team, not least from Manchester United players. * Well, there is competition in any team. If you want to play with the best then you have to accept that there is competition everywhere. I don't think it's very surprising that I'm up against my club team-mates for England. After all, Manchester United are one of the best club sides in Europe.
But competition can only be a good thing. The most important thing for England or Manchester United is that the team is successful - whether I'm playing or whether someone else is playing. It's all about the team. Fortunately, I don't get paid to make those decisions, I just get paid to play - and that's what I do.
*From the little you've seen, is Fabio Capello the man to take England to the FIFA World Cup in South Africa? * Yes. He's had so much success as a club manager, I think that he will be a success with us. We've got great players, we've got a great manager, so there are no reasons why he can't do it. Obviously, the final qualifiers for the World Cup are a long way away and there is a lot of football to be played between now and then. But if we work on the things that need working on, I'm sure we'll do it. I know expectations are high, but I am confident that we have a bright future.
*What do you make of the qualifying group you've got? There are some long journeys for you, aren't there? * To be honest, I'm not bothered who we play against really. I think we should beat every team we play against and we should finish top of the group. Croatia were obviously better than us this time around and so we will have to improve, but we will improve. I'm confident of that.