Dietmar Hamman: Liverpool should focus on top-four finish NOT title

Liverpool should be focusing on a top-four finish and NOT retaining the title , claims former Reds midfielder Dietmar Hamann… as he opens up to DANNY MURPHY about life at Anfield and City

  • Danny Murphy speaks to Dietmar Hamann ahead of Liverpool against Man City
  • The Sportsmail columnist and Hamann played together at Anfield for many years
  • Hamann also had a spell at Man City just as the Abu Dhabi takeover was finalised
  • The German says Liverpool should focus on top four and praised City’s defence 

I still call Dietmar Hamann by the ‘Kaiser’ nickname he was given at Liverpool, though in reality no foreign player slotted into the Anfield dressing room quicker.

He picked up the Scouse slang within weeks and was always up for a game of cards or a post-match drink. He was also more influential on the pitch to the younger English players than he probably realised.

While Gerard Houllier provided the right environment for the likes of Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher, Didi educated us during games, particularly midfielders like Steven Gerrard and myself.

Danny Murphy (middle) spoke to Didi Hamann (right) about playing for Liverpool and Man City

The two teams face off in a clash of the titans Premier League encounter on Sunday afternoon

He would signal when and where to receive the ball or anticipate danger and it’s only looking back that I understand how he developed our game.

Being a proper Anglophile, ‘Kaiser’ stayed in England initially after hanging up his boots and may well return to live here one day. He is currently based in his hometown of Munich working for Sky Germany.

While his contribution at Anfield will never be forgotten, he was also a Manchester City player when their fortunes changed suddenly in 2008, with new owners arriving from Abu Dhabi.

Liverpool’s home defeats against Burnley and Brighton coupled with City’s 13 wins in a row make this look like a last-chance saloon for Jurgen Klopp’s team, who will fall 10 points behind City if they lose.

The Reds are in a crisis after back-to-back league defeats at Anfield to Burnley and Brighton

Manchester City, meanwhile, top the Premier League and lead Liverpool by seven points 

Given their injury crisis, Didi does not think retaining the title will even be at the forefront of Liverpool’s minds at the moment.

‘The priority won’t be winning the league but finishing in the top four,’ he says. 

‘Manchester United and Leicester aren’t going anywhere, Chelsea have had a bounce — Liverpool have their hands full.

‘Any team in the world would miss Virgil van Dijk. You rarely saw Liverpool countered when he played. He’d clean up. Joe Gomez has had a lot of injuries for a young player, now there’s no Joel Matip either. 

‘Using Jordan Henderson and Fabinho as cover has had a major impact. They used to suffocate opposition in midfield, other teams were so dominated and scared of losing the ball, they’d be forced to lump it forward.

The Reds have been without Virgil van Dijk (right) and Joe Gomez (left) for most of this season

‘Now they are more confident, Liverpool have to work much harder for their results and that’s more tiring over time. They are more reliant than ever on Mo Salah and Sadio Mane.’

Interestingly, he thinks performing in front of an empty Kop on Sunday afternoon might not necessarily be a disadvantage.

‘People in Liverpool are demanding,’ he explains. 

‘The fans can be a great help but, in a spell like this one, their anxiety can be detrimental. It could be harder to beat City if the fans were there.’

One silver lining for Klopp is the signing of 20-year-old Ozan Kabak on deadline day. Didi has watched him closely in his capacity as a television analyst.

Hamann thinks new Liverpool signing Ozan Kabak can make a difference for the Reds this term

‘He is a physical player, loves to wrestle and the English league will suit him better than the Bundesliga,’ he says. 

‘He’s very capable, I like him. He can be a bit rash but he is good enough to step up even though he’s young.’

While Klopp is in the grip of an injury crisis, City have kept six clean sheets on the bounce. 

‘I had my doubts whether Pep would stay at the club this long because of his past history. But he has and the partnership between Ruben Dias and John Stones has transformed them,’ says Didi.

‘The defence was always City’s Achilles heel. They signed a lot of centre backs but couldn’t work it out. It was a similar story at Liverpool until Van Dijk came. Dias has had a similar effect.’

Hamann believes John Stones (left) and Ruben Dias (right )have made the difference for City

Kevin De Bruyne will miss out with injury and Didi said: ‘I’d love to have played with him. When you ping a pass into a midfielder who can control and turn with the ball to make something happen, you get praise for your pass.’

Personally, I would love to have seen a midfield trio of Hamann, Stevie G and De Bruyne — they would have been pretty much unbeatable.

This was the first time I’d spoken to ‘Kaiser’ since we lost our beloved former manager, Houllier. 

As regular readers know, the Frenchman was a huge influence on my career and Didi’s perspective was also interesting given the career he had, playing for Bayern Munich and in the 2002 World Cup final for Germany.

‘It was probably a risk for Gerard to sign so many foreign players at Liverpool but he made it work because of the way he gelled us with the young talent already there; Carra, Michael, Stevie, little Thommo [David Thompson], yourself,’ says Didi.

Ex-Reds star Hamann (left) was part of a foreign revolution at Anfield under Gerard Houllier

‘Gerard saw the person before the player. He knew the names of your wife, your kids.

‘When I signed, I was told there was this special young player at the club called Steven Gerrard, but there is no guarantee any youngster will fulfil their potential.

‘Gerard believed in Stevie and made him captain. Players need that backing. I had the same at Bayern. I was 20 and not breaking into the team. Franz Beckenbauer put his arm round my shoulder and said the club had faith in me.

‘Gerard reminded me very much of Sven Goran Eriksson at City. 

‘Sven made sure the players greeted everyone properly, showed everyone respect, whether the manager or the tea lady. Houllier’s Liverpool really was like a family.’

Hamann (right) was signed by Manchester City boss Stuart Pearce and spent three years there

Hamann’s three-year spell at City is sometimes forgotten alongside his other achievements but his time there proved to be an historic period.

Signed by Stuart Pearce, he spent an eventful season with Sven that ended in an 8-1 defeat at Middlesbrough when the players were aware their manager was being forced out.

There was even greater drama a few weeks into the following season when wealthy new owners from Abu Dhabi came in on August transfer deadline day and within hours broke the British transfer record on Robinho.

Hamann (right) played under Sven-Goran Eriksson during the early days of City’s takeover

‘I loved working for Sven,’ recalls Didi about his time in Manchester. ‘City had super players like Elano, he always found space to receive a pass, and good emerging ones like Micah Richards, Stephen Ireland, Joey Barton and Richard Dunne.

‘We were top of the league for a while and beat Manchester United, then Sven told us in February the owner was letting him go at the end of the season. We became disillusioned. We didn’t set out to lose but that extra two or three per cent fight went out of us because we didn’t want to lose Sven.

‘There was talk about new owners but we didn’t know what it meant. Signing Robinho was a statement. Even then you wondered if the Sheikh might stay for three years and lose interest. What the club have done since is remarkable.’

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