Kenneth Tan sits down with the former Liverpool midfielder to discuss the Reds’ failings this season, Brendan Rodgers’ coaching credentials and his short-lived stint at Bolton Wanderers…
Throughout his eight years at Liverpool, Dietmar Hamann perfectly exemplified the meaning of reliability and consistency as a football player, rarely giving the ball away in midfield and distributing it in immaculate fashion to his attackers. His time with the Reds coincided with one of their most successful periods as they picked up the Treble in 2001, won the UEFA Champions League in 2005 and took home the FA Cup a year later.
But consistency seems to be exactly something the current Liverpool squad is lacking as they struggle to hit the heights of last season’s surprise challenge for the Premier League title. The now-retired ‘Didi’ was in town along with 15 other Reds legends this week for the Castlewood Group Liverpool Masters game, and took time off with FourFourTwo to discuss what’s plaguing his beloved side this season, and a dream to manage Liverpool one day.
You should have plenty of good memories of your eight years at Liverpool – winning the Treble in 2001, the Champions League triumph in 2005 and the FA Cup final comeback in 2006. Which was the best of the lot?
“The best moment has to be 2005. For a club which made its name in the competition in the ’70s and ’80s to win the biggest prize in club football again was truly special. It was a special night, especially the way we fought from 3-0 down to win it for the fifth time after 21 years.”
There have been many factors attributed to Liverpool’s failings this season – two popular ones being the defence and Mario Balotelli. Do you agree with that?
It’s too easy to blame it either on the defence or Balotelli. I won’t single out one player because that would be unfair. From the goalkeeper to the centre-back to Balotelli, everyone has not performed to their level. Also, I don’t think the balance of the team is right. Obviously, they’ve lost Suarez and also Sturridge for the first 10 games – a duo which scored 50 to 60 goals between them last year, so the team was always going to miss them.
They brought players in and they also need time to adapt. You haven’t got an awful lot of time these days in football and need to hit the ground running, which they hadn’t done. Hopefully, with Sturridge coming back after the international break against Crystal Palace, he can give Liverpool that extra spark.
Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel have been Brendan Rodgers’ preferred central defensive options this season. What do you think about their partnership?
They are both very good players; Lovren had an exceptional season with Southampton while Skrtel was one of the best players, if not the best player, for Liverpool – doing well at the back and scoring a lot of goals. But it’s not what people do individually; it’s important what they do as a partnership at the back. So far, you have to say Lovren and Skrtel have not worked out too well.
You tweeted over the weekend that you ‘would start [Kolo] Toure’ because the ‘defence has been lacking a voice and leader’. Should Rodgers give him more opportunities to start?
The problem over the last two years has been that there isn’t anyone at the back who’s been talking or very vocal. It’s very important to have somebody at the back to organise, give instructions and lead the line - I don’t think they’ve got that. Lovren and Skrtel are all very good players in their own right, but they need somebody who takes the initiative. Toure could be that player; yeah… he’s probably not the player he was five or eight years ago, but I still think he can bring a lot to the team.”
What about the midfield? Steven Gerrard can’t go on forever, while there are the likes of Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen and Emre Can. Do you think these players are good enough for Liverpool or do the club need to recruit midfielders of higher standard?
Somebody needs to step up and take over that position. You can never replace Stevie; if you look at what he has done over the last 10 or 15 years, it’s very hard - if not impossible - to replace him. I think Can was originally brought in for that position so that he can fit in there, then you have Joe who can play in that position as well, if you want to play with one holding midfielder rather than two. They have the time now to learn from Stevie and grow into the club. It remains to be seen if they will be able to do it.
What do you think about new signing Can? He’s getting into the team and scored at the weekend against Chelsea… Does he have a bright future at the club?
The problem with a lot of players is struggling to produce on a consistent and regular basis for Liverpool. It’s not good enough doing well once every month; you have to perform well every three days. I think he’s a talent with the capability and potential to succeed here.
What’s your take on Rodgers? Is he unfairly criticized this season or should he be given the time to turn things around?
I think Brendan has done well since he got in. It was very important to get into the Champions League but now they need to consolidate and make sure they’re in it for years to come. He brought in a lot of players and eventually he will be judged based on how they fare this season. So far, they haven’t really set the world alight but I won’t go overboard with the criticism because they did ever so well last year. I think people who are asking for his head or wanting him to be sacked should take a step back and see where the club was two years ago.
The team have collected just 14 points from 11 games and are currently four points adrift of fourth-place West Ham. Do you think they can still make the top four?
Of course they can. If you look at the other teams like Spurs, Arsenal and Man United, they have their own problems as well. There is no one team, apart from Chelsea, amongst those clubs typically expected in the top four dong well. It remains to be seen whether West Ham and Southampton can stay there. The top four is certainly very much still in reach.
You signed for Bolton Wanderers after leaving Liverpool in 2006, but left to join Manchester City after a day. It was officially reported that you had a ‘change of heart’ – how true was that?
I received a call about an hour after I signed for Bolton – Robbie Fowler actually phoned me to tell me that Man City was interested. It was always my wish to go to Man City. Thus I made Bolton aware that I liked a change and went there. From then onwards, it was just between the clubs to sort out and fortunately they struck an agreement.
Do you have any regrets leaving Liverpool at that time?
I could actually have stayed during the year I left. There was the option to finish my career at Liverpool but it wasn’t going to happen under Rafa (Benitez). He told me that I wouldn’t play as many games as I wished, thus after winning the FA Cup, I thought it was a good time to go.
Moving on to coaching… You had a short spell in charge of English side Stockport County before resigning after just four months. What actually happened there?
The club was going to be taken over by a consortium and the owners who stayed in control of the club hadn’t wanted me there in the first place. That’s why I left, although the takeover didn’t actually happen in the end.
You previously stated that it would be a ‘dream come true’ to manage Liverpool one day. Is that still the case, and do you see yourself going back into management after a three-year hiatus?
It’s still my dream but you have got to take the step forward. Right now I’m doing quite a lot of media work and I’m happy with that, so I’m not sure if I will go back into coaching. You’ll never know in life what’s going to happen but at this moment, this dream is a long way away.
In June, you mentioned that the Germany team was not good enough to win the World Cup and they eventually proved you wrong. What do you think about that and can they possibly emulate Spain’s achievements of winning three major tournaments in succession?
The reason I didn’t think they would win it was because they were missing four to five major players. However, they were, by far, the best performing team at the World Cup and deservedly won it.
That said, I think it’s very hard to do what Spain did. Right now, they’ve lost some really influential players in [Philipp] Lahm and [Per] Mertesacker, who have probably 250 caps between them, while (Bastian) Schweinsteiger is probably out till the New Year. There’re some young players coming through but to replace the ones they lost, which Spain didn’t after the first one [Euro 2008], is very difficult. It’ll be very hard to follow up in two years’ time.
Main image: Lim Weixiang/FourFourTwo
Dietmar Hamann and the Liverpool Legends will be appearing at The Castlewood Group Liverpool Masters on Saturday, November 15, 2014 at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore.