Michael Owen was a surprise visitor as he led an FA delegation to see British troops serving in Camp Bastion.
The top secret trip was organised as part of Prime Minister David Cameron's whirlwind visit to Afghanistan just before the Christmas holidays.
And the former England striker was delighted to join the travelling party as he continues his ongoing work as a ambassador for The FA’s 150th anniversary this year.
As well as being humbled to get the chance to personally meet the servicemen and women, there was the opportunity for Owen to help announce a new football partnership between The FA and the Afghan Football Federation, which will also involve the Premier League in the months and years to come.
“The FA does a great job throughout the world of football, promoting grassroots football all over the world.”
“It is great to come over here to meet the troops at an important time of the year,” said Owen.
“The FA and the Afghan Football Federation are joining forces and the English FA are basically providing know-how, expertise and support to hopefully improve the game over here.
“It is great that The FA can do that and improve relations, especially to come over at such an important time of year and see so many smiling people.”
Upon boarding for the outward journey, the former Three Lions No.10 was paired with the man from Number 10 Downing Street.
Owen might have been used to the best conditions during his fantastic playing career with England, as well as Liverpool, Real Madrid and Manchester United, but had to play second fiddle when it came to sleeping arrangements.
“I was bunked up with the PM,” he revealed. “He had first pick. He took the top which was the surprising thing! He left me to chat to the pilots for half an hour and then I followed him and went down to the bottom.
“It wasn't the best sleep but who is going to complain when we had the best space on the plane. I was grateful.”
Owen described his arrival in the country as “pretty special”, particularly the early-morning opportunity to say hello to Forces personnel as they enjoyed their morning meal before the day’s patrols.
There was also the chance to inspect some of the barracks, with the desert conditions not stopping the opportunity for a festive touch or two from those living far from a chilly and wintry England.
Owen added: “It was really special having breakfast with the troops. It is a time of the year when everyone wants to be with their family, so it is good to see they are making the best of what they have got with all the Christmas decorations.
"Hopefully flying visits from people like the PM can boost morale and obviously they can see the [end of the] line in sight.”
After breakfast, Owen joined in with the Afghan and British troops for a training session – “rekindling a few of the skills I used to have” – on a dusty makeshift pitch that reminded all involved of the conditions faced by those on the base day in and day out.
Inbetween lofted crosses to his new team-mates, the 34-year-old happily posed for pictures with smiling soldiers.
But camouflage nets in the goals and a line of armoured vehicles along one side of the pitch helped keep serious matters firmly in mind at all time – even if the atmosphere was a light-hearted sporting one.
Owen, in full England tracksuit to remind of his 40 goals in 89 internationals, took time to tee up the budding men and women for shots on goal before talking more about the new link-up between the two countries.
“The FA does a great job throughout the world of football, promoting grassroots football all over the world," he said.
"It is The FA's 150th anniversary year as well, which is special - they are partnering up and lending their support and advice to the Afghan FA and Afghan sport in general.
“It is great that [the Afghan footballers] can participate in these types of events and have competitive teams at international level, which is good for the morale of the country as well - their football team is pretty good.”
When asked about the prospect of a senior fixture between the nations in future, Owen admitted “it would be great,” although all present were mindful that the south Asian nation are first focused on trying to qualify for the FIFA World Cup by 2022.
Micahel Owen's England profile
In the meantime, Owen was looking forward to the prospect of welcoming an Afghan delegation back to England for some further knowledge-sharing.
“With the association that the Afghan FA is going to have with ours, I think there is an opportunity for them to come over and train at St. George’s Park...I know they are big into their football and big into the Premier League - like most of the world really.
“Anywhere east that you go [English football] is just huge and Afghanistan is very similar. There are a lot of Manchester United supporters, Liverpool supporters, and it has been great to come over and see them.”
Before departing, Owen signed a pile of England shirts, posed for countless more photos and even left behind a signed pair of boots.
It was the brave men and women he met, though, that really made the lasting impression.