Owen On Ferguson

Last updated : 07 November 2007 By Ed
Ardwick is barely a mile from the outposts of Selfridges and Harvey Nichols that make up the new Manchester but it seems lost in another century. And yet even here there are concessions; in this narrow, red-brick universe; the old primary school with its separate entrances for boys and girls is now a photographic studio.

On what must have been a very small playground are lined up a collection of what might be described as footballers' cars - a Mercedes, a BMW, the ubiquitous black 4x4. None of these belongs to Owen Hargreaves. He arrived for a photo shoot for Nike in a taxi.

"You just get more of a feel for a city if you talk to taxi drivers," he reflected. "And the question I'm asked most frequently since I've come to Manchester is, 'What's he like?'

"The first time I met Alex Ferguson was for breakfast at a hotel and he kept getting up and basically serving me from the buffet. I felt so embarrassed because you'd seen him so many times on television that you feel like you know someone and, of course, I didn't. We didn't talk about football for an hour and a half; we just talked about life in general.

"The one thing about him is that he sees everything. At half-time against Manchester City he came into the dressing room and he clearly wasn't happy. He questioned someone about a mistake and the player replied, 'I did this to do that'. Ferguson just shouted, 'Rubbish'. He'd seen exactly what had happened."

In Ferguson, Hargreaves can see many similarities with Ottmar Hitzfeld, his stern, magisterial manager at Bayern Munich, a man who has done something Ferguson will never now achieve - to win the European Cup with different clubs. "Yes, Hitzfeld was like that. A lot of the top managers are great watchers. They can tell by a player's body language whether he's in form or not."

For Ferguson, success this season will be measured in more than just the Premier League. Since 1993 he has competed for the club's great grail, the European Cup, and won it just once. Hargreaves, whom Ferguson bluntly admits was bought primarily for the Champions League, was a witness to his fabulous, solitary triumph.

"I was in the Nou Camp with Bayern's under-18 side," Hargreaves recalled. "We were allowed to go because it was a couple of days before a tournament in Rotterdam. Bayern played really well and should have won. In the end, we just threw it away in the last five minutes.

"I remember watching David Beckham, who was playing in central midfield in the absence of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, analysing his movement and trying to see if I could incorporate some of the things he did into my game. It was slightly different for me because I was a big fan of Manchester United but I still lost my voice because we screamed so much for Bayern. We just sat there shocked because it had been so comfortable. And then, suddenly, the cup was gone."