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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


How Owen Hargreaves Became The Sarah Palin Of Canadian Soccer

Written by on August 1, 2011 | 13 Comments »
Posted in General, MLS

Anybody who has written (or even read) an online article about Sarah Palin will be able to tell you two things that apply in all cases; she guarantees “hits’ to that particular website, and she also guarantees that the comment section will be full of passionate and contradictory opinions with very little constructive debate taking place.

Difficult then to reconcile the former Governor of Alaska with mild-mannered midfielder Owen Hargreaves; but not impossible.

To the majority of soccer fans worldwide Hargreaves is a talented, hard-working player who has had a career brutally cut short by injuries; but to a small group of  supporters of the Canadian national team he is Lord Voldemort, Darth Vader and Vidkun Quisling all rolled into one very unappetising package.

His crime? Put simply, he chose to play for England ahead of  his country of birth although the story is a little more complex than that.

From a young age Hargreaves was hyped as the best player to come out of Canada in a long while (which he undoubtedly was) and then publicly asserted that he had every intention of playing for the national team.

The machinations of how he decided, at the age of nineteen, to play for England instead are the subject of as many conspiracy theories as the JFK shooting and 9/11 combined but the plain fact is that he chose the biggest (in soccer terms) of the three available to him; the other two being Canada and Wales.   

This decision set off a wave of anger that is still rolling forward, and when the Vancouver Whitecaps announced a few weeks ago that they had an interest in signing the out of contract midfielder the local message boards were besieged by fans claiming that they would never go to another Whitecaps game again if such an outrage came to pass.

In the same way that Sarah Palin has come to be shorthand for a particular political position in the USA, Hargreaves also seems fated to stand for so much more than he actually is.  

This excellent piece by Richard Whitall argues that whatever these fans may think of Hargreaves there is little to be gained by living so bitterly in the past, and that the hour has come to ask genuine questions about what can actually be done to prevent the next world-class player from leaving the country instead of constantly reliving a past betrayal. In other words “it’s time to move on”. 

The first comment following his argument?

“if he wants to come home and use our resources and my tax dollars go to his health care etc…he can get stuffed”

Still a long way to go then to convince some people that hating on Hargreaves is a waste of energy that only serves to divert attention and energy away from far more pressing issues, and that unwillingness to move on can only be bad news for Canadian soccer as a whole.

Good news for me though as I get to include the internet catnip of Palin and Hargreaves in one post (now if I can just shoehorn David Beckham into this somehow…..).

13 responses to “How Owen Hargreaves Became The Sarah Palin Of Canadian Soccer”

  1. Soccerlogical says:

    Nice piece Russell. All I know is that Owen was a key player during his Bayern Munich days and under Sven.

  2. John Bladen says:

    It’s a bit like the spurned suitor isn’t it Russell?

    We could be asking the CSA why these players want nothing to do with the Canadian national team, and why we invest (in some cases) significant money and time into players who haven’t committed to play for Canada. As I recall, much of Hargreaves development was done in Europe, so he isn’t really the poster boy for ‘national betrayal’ as it were. Nor is Teal Bunbury, who did most (if not all) of his footballing development in the USA (we seem to have no problem when another country pays for the development of players who might come and play for us…)

    My vote for the poster boy would be Begovic… this country takes his family in (as refugees from a genocidal war, if I remember right), he takes a place in our development system, then hops it back to the old country to play internationally. That’s as crass as it comes (including the public pronouncements that he wanted to play for Canada, then the refusal to speak to Hart or the media about it)

    Regardless, that all goes out the window when players come back to Canada to play professionally (assuming Hargreaves wants to, which isn’t certain from what I’ve heard). Instead of “taking” our resources, he will actually be paying Canadian taxes… fans suggesting they will boycott VW games if he suits up have lost the plot.

    Anyone think Begovic is going to have the balls to play should Bosnia come to Canada for a ‘friendly’?

  3. BadgeKisser says:

    I guess since the HMS Owen Hargeaves has been officially decommissioned by Manchester United, it’s “any port in a storm.”

  4. Gus Keri says:

    This issue reminds me the French Attempt at introducing quota for their academies to limits immigrants from being developed because of the risk of them playing for their country of origin.

    It was wrong there and it’s wrong here, too.

    There is no country in the world that didn’t suffer from this problem.

    So, I would say: “Let the player decide whatever is suitable to him or her and should not be judged negatively based on this decision.”

    People’s need for help to survive in a safe environment, outside of their devastated or poor countries, should not be used agaisnt them, regardless.

  5. Tim says:

    ummm Vader was the chosen one to bring balance to the force(which he did by killing the Emperor) so as where Varder turned to the darkside for a few, he came good at the end…Palin will never be good or score a goal…Can Owen?

  6. Soccerlogical says:

    TIM – Don’t forget to take out your orthodontic retainer before bed! 🙂

  7. gorn says:


    Well, way to ‘raise’ the level of dialogue by hyperbolising both Hargreaves and his critics to the grotesque (in the bad way – Swift would never have been so crass). I didn’t realize a vote against Owen was a vote for evil/genocide/terrorism.

    How is this article helping the (rightful) criticism of the CSA, or in the least pushing for the necessary reform? Sounds like you had a quota to meet, and decided to use all the hot buttons you could to accrue hits to justify your existence on here.

    OTOH, Karl Rove would be proud of your disgusting analogy. so you’ve got that going for you, which is nice.

    I’m ashamed for you. You’re a clown. Stick to issues you understand, not ones you plopped into because you weren’t good enough for News of the World and had to go all the way to Canada to get hired.

  8. Gbenga says:

    I like Owen Hargreaves and if not for injury, he would be one of the most dominant players in the position he plays. He was England’s best player at the 2006 WC in Germany and had a successful career with Bayern Munich before he made the move to Manchester United. Injury has taken a toll on him and he is not the player he is again. It’s sad to see a player of his caliber go through what he has gone through the last few years.

    I don’t blame him for playing for England and he had every right to. Playing for England gave him an opportunity to play at a World Cup and also improved his stock as a player. It’s up to Canadian Futbol Association to improve their futbol and get the very best of talents out there to play for them. What I saw at the Gold Cup was scary and unless drastic measures are taken, I don’t see Canada qualifying for a major FIFA tournament in a long time.

  9. Andre says:

    I can understand the frustration some Canadians feel but since he emigrated before reaching a senior club team and never played for a Canadian national team at any level I don’t think it is unreasonable for him to play for England. A quick look around last summer’s world cup would find much more egregious examples of football treason.

  10. Erik says:

    I’d much rather vote for Hargreaves for US Prez than I would Palin. Couldn’t be any worse than what she would be

  11. Gbenga says:

    The Canadian Soccer Association really needs to revamp their whole youth program and start getting players who are hungry and ready to play. A solid youth program and development is the key and until that takes place, Canadian soccer will continue to fall into abyss for a very long time. The results and performances of the U-20 team when they hosted the FIFA U-20 World Cup on home soil in 2007 wasn’t very encouraging. The team went three matches without scoring a single goal. Not good and I believe that tournament set Canadian soccer back for many years.

    Also I believe Canadian Soccer didn’t groom able replacements for players like Craig Forest, Carlo Corazzin, Jason Vos, Jeff Clarke and others who performed so well during the Gold Cup tournament in 2000 where they beat Colombia in the final in Los Angeles. That should have been the defining moment for Canadian soccer but instead they went downhill from there. Once those guys retired, the talent pool coming through the ranks just wasn’t good enough to compete at the highest level and a decade has gone since that shocking win over Colombia and nothing has changed ever since. Hopefully, things change for the better and they do everything they can to make it to Brazil in 2014.

  12. Russell Berrisford says:

    @Gorn-I’m pretty sure that Swift actually would have been so crass-but I’m genuinely flattered that you compare me to him-thanks

  13. John Bladen says:

    Russell – seems like you might have acquired the first (?) SRE groupie!

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