Owen Hargreaves knew Bastian Schweinsteiger was different when the Manchester United midfielder approached him and demanded his boots.
Schweinsteiger was just 14 at the time and idolised Hargreaves, who was establishing himself in the Bayern Munich first-team after coming through the club’s youth system.
Billeted together in the lodgings Bayern use for their best young prospects the pair went on to become team-mates and firm friends, meeting regularly in Manchester since Schweinsteiger completed his move to Old Trafford this summer.
But for Hargreaves that first meeting demonstrated why the German is perfectly prepared for his debut Manchester United-Liverpool game this afternoon. In the cauldron of battle Hargreaves believes no-one will be calmer than the 31-year-old as his empathy helped transform the atmosphere at Bayern.
And Hargreaves has told his former club that not only do they have the perfect man for the present but also a leader to mentor the likes of Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay on their way to stardom.
“I used to practice free-kicks and he came by when he was living in the youth house,” explained Hargreaves.
“He came by and said ‘can I have your shoes?’. I didn’t know who he was. I think I said no to him.
“Then he came up in the first-team a couple of years later, so when he came through I tried to help him make that transition easier, as when I came through it wasn’t like that. You were there to earn your stripes.
“When you came through in Germany to the first-team the older guys used to kick the life out of you, that was the school it was.
“But now it has changed and that is why him and (Philip) Lahm are captains there – they are extremely accommodating and helpful.
“He is a prime example of being a leader and having success without so much hostility, because I think back in the day a lot of leaders led like that. That is no criticism but the game has involved.
“He is a great acquisition, also for the younger players to mentor them. As much as he is a great guy, the most important thing is the product on the pitch.
“It is great to have a relaxed, good environment. But he wants to win and has done a good job of that with about 1000 league titles over the years.”
But both Hargreaves and Steve McManaman are disappointed there will be just one local boy in the two sides today – with Liverpudlian Wayne Rooney turning out for Manchester United.
“It is sad, really,” said former Liverpool midfielder McManaman.
“There were times when there were Scousers and Mancunians everywhere.
“Unfortunately the two teams, you don’t want to say they have lost their identity but they have completely changed in these last couple of years. A lot of people have lost contact with them all.”
BT Sport presenter and pundits Gary Lineker, Rio Ferdinand, Steven McManaman, Owen Hargreaves and Howard Webb were speaking at the launch of BT Sport’s UEFA Champions League coverage for the 2015/16 season in London. BT Sport is only available to Irish viewers through the Setanta Sports Pack. The Setanta Sports Pack will broadcast live coverage of all UEFA Champions League matches this season along with being the only place to see Liverpool, Celtic and Spurs in Thursday night’s Europa League. To subscribe visit www.setanta.com
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