Wally meets Ex-Man Utd and England star Owen Hargreaves

Needless to say, the only England player who scored in yet another traumatic penalty shoot-out had learned to keep his nerve from 12 yards in German football.

Owen Hargreaves was voted the Three Lions’ player of the year in 2006, when he was at the peak of his powers as a midfield linchpin with Bayern Munich.

The fall-out from England’s World Cup quarter-final exit against Portugal 14 years ago was mainly focused on Wayne Rooney’s red card and ­ Cristiano Ronaldo ’s wink.

But it was also a showcase for Hargreaves’ good habits – unfussy, neat in possession and industrious off the ball – all of them traits straight from the Bundesliga textbook.

“As a learning ground, Bayern Munich ticked every box,” Hargreaves said. “And the Bundesliga is an exceptional place to play football. Every stadium is pretty much full each week, the infrastructure is world-class and the cream rises to the top.

“If it’s not the strongest league in Europe, it’s something for the Germans to be proud of. Am I surprised there have not been more English players who have tested themselves in the Bundesliga? Yeah, it is a little curious.”

It is 43 years since Kevin Keegan left Liverpool for Hamburg. Remarkably, only four more England internationals have since followed him – Hargreaves, Tony Woodcock, Dave Watson (briefly), and Jadon Sancho.

Arguably, Scots have made as much impact as the English: Paul Lambert won the ­European Cup at Borussia Dortmund, while Mark McGhee, Murdo MacLeod and Alan McInally were all respected in their adopted parishes.

Hargreaves conquered every horizon at Bayern, whose last-gasp equaliser at Hamburg in 2001 pinched the title by a point from Schalke, whose fans were already celebrating on the pitch after beating ­Unterhaching 5-3.

“A couple of weeks later we went on to win the Champions League final against Valencia on pens,” said Hargreaves. “Not a bad way for a 20-year-old kid to end his first season in senior football.”

As if to prove the magic of youth was transferable, he joined Manchester United and won the title and Champions League again in 2008 before injuries curtailed his career.

In the end, his knee was in such a state that he could climb the stairs of the house he bought in Manchester but he couldn’t get back down again because it was too painful, and he ended up living on the couch.

“From a football perspective, I grew up learning to play the German way,” he said.

“The training sessions are super-competitive and they don’t do anything by half-measures. That’s why they have won the World Cup three times and reached another three finals in the last 12 tournaments.

“If any player who had an opportunity to join a Bundesliga club asked my advice now, I wouldn’t hesitate. I’d tell them: ‘Go ahead – jump in, you’ll love it.’

“There is no real language barrier because most people in Germany speak at least a little English, it’s only an hour’s flight away if you need to come home for any reason, and the best way to remove the mystique around a country is to experience it for yourself.”

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