“You’re supporting Germany?!”

Posted by Neil D on May 7, 2005, 09:48:34 PM

“You’re supporting Germany?!” my friend asked me, with a look on his face that said I had better explain myself pretty quickly. We were sat round his house with a few beers, ready to watch the World Cup final, a final to be contested by Germany and Brazil. My other friends shared his look of disdain and I’m sure I could hear the sound of somebody sharpening a knife.

“Sure”, I replied (actually I didn’t, I probably just said yes, but in homage to Rafa I find myself adding ‘sure’ to my sentences these days). My argument was basically that the Brazil team was overrated and they cheated to get to the final (hands up Rivaldo, for the incident against Turkey, who deserved to beat them twice). England would have done them themselves if Erik-son-of-a-bitch had any motivational skills whatsoever. ‘Germany have winged it to the final too!’ my friend replied, which was true, seeing as they had defeated the mighty South Korea and USA en route to the final of a mediocre competition where France, Italy and Argentina didn’t turn up and Holland didn’t even board the plane.

My real reason for cheering on Germany? Simple. “The last time I checked there aren’t any Brazilians playing for Liverpool.”

You see, to me, England is like a mistress, but Liverpool is like a wife. And just as a mistress gives you fleeting pleasure but ultimate disappointment, a wife is always there, your real love, your real care. My favourite England moments are all Liverpool-inspired, be it McManaman terrorising Holland, Michael Owen destroying Argentina, or Liverpool 5 Germany 1. Anyway … there was a player representing Liverpool that day, a German, a German who makes me want to eat bratwurst, buy a Volkswagen and wear lederhosen. That’s right, gracing the World Cup final, the first Liverpool player since Sir Roger to do so, Dietmar Hamann.

I have been visiting this site since November, when I was told about it by a friend at college and an esteemed RAWK contributor! Until now I have been too busy to post a piece that I thought about writing after the Arsenal game around the same time. I began to think of my affection for Didi in the aftermath of the Chelsea victory on that glorious Tuesday night and how much I think he has contributed to our club and it reminded me of the idea. So here goes.

When debating Gerard Houllier’s best signing, most Reds respond with either Sami Hyypia or Gary MacAllister. Both these arguments are hard to argue with, especially when you consider that Sami cost only 2.5 million and Gary Mac is the greatest free transfer ever made. Dietmar Hamann would be my choice however, even though I thought his transfer fee of just under £8m was excessive at the time.

I believed that we were signing a proven international, but was worried that he hadn’t really shone in the Premiership as an attacking midfielder for the Toon. Eight million pounds is a lot of money, but occupying a deeper role for Liverpool, he soon established himself as the key component in Houllier’s Liverpool renaissance. He tidies, he collects, he breaks down attacks, he marshals the midfield and he covers the back four better than any player I have witnessed in my time as a Liverpool fan. He was a far cry from the over inflated, self-proclaimed Guv’nor, Paul Ince, a player bought for that role but who should never should have pulled on our shirt. Ince would charge forward in search of glory and time after time loss possession, more often than not resulting in goals for the opposition. His tackles were rash and self-serving; he would dive in as if to certify his ‘hard-man’ status and the damage he caused in the dressing room is well-documented.

Didi is the exact opposite, a model professional who rarely gives the ball away, who tackles and distributes without fuss and only gives away fouls when absolutely necessary. He is the master of the ‘clever’ foul, the foul conceded when the opposition break, the slight tug of the shirt or body check that isn’t sporting, but is certainly effective. The impact of his substitution against Bayer Leverkusen has been discussed in length and does not need any more analysis here; it is suffice to say that it is considered by some to be the turning point in Houllier’s managerial career.

Didi has a wealth of experience that makes him an irreplaceable asset, even during his less impressive performances. In the heat of the moment he does not panic, he calmly brings the ball out of defence and looks to play a pass forward. He has an incredible knack of using his wily expertise to win fouls when they are most needed, not really by diving or cheating as such, but by drawing his opponent into making a challenge that nine times out of ten will result in a free-kick for our side. He relieves pressure by showing his opponent just enough of the ball that they decide to make a challenge, and at the vital moment sticks himself between player and ball so that he is fouled.

A perfect example is in the game against Arsenal. I was sat in the Anny Road End with my brother, who had just said that a point against the then champions would be a brilliant result. I agreed, but still felt that our performance merited all three. In the dying moments Arsenal poured forward and we both screamed encouragement, fearing that our hard work and the incredible first half display would amount to nothing. Didi wasn’t worried. He won the ball and ran towards the corner, as Thierry Henry raced over to close him down. He invited the tackle, Henry bought it hook, line and sinker and Didi shoved his body in the way just in time to win the foul. Danger over, Chris Kirkland stepped up, launched the ball forward, Sol Campbell panicked and Neil Mellor did the rest.

Dietmar Hamman did not score the goal, Neil Mellor did. The free-kick he won was not the reason that Mellor scored, or the reason the fans next to me started singing ‘You can shove yer va-va-voom up yer arse!’ Yet his contribution was the same as it always is: a vital link in a chain of events, a cog in a machine that always runs more smoothly with his presence. On Tuesday he returned from two months out with injury to assist a valiant rearguard action and play his part in an unbelievable night, the like of which I have never witnessed. Jamie Carragher was immense and so was the entire back four, but I am sure when they all stood in the tunnel before kick-off, heard You’ll Never Walk Alone blasting out to the heavens and felt the vibrations from the shaking Kop, they all felt more confident knowing that our reliable German was on hand.

Hopefully Rafael Benitez and Didi will agree on a new contract at the end of the season. I would be delighted if he stays until the end of his career. If he returns to Germany, perhaps to Bayern Munich as speculated, I wish him all the best. Benitez has an intriguing selection dilemma in Istanbul and I hope Didi takes his place as part of a trinity with Gerrard and Alonso against AC Milan. He offers a cover that I think allows Alonso to dictate the play from deep while Gerrard can maraud forward. Perhaps if the German scores one of his yearly wonder goals and we bring home number five it might finally shut up my friend, because yes, returning to my long-winded intro, Brazil won that final, thanks to Ronaldo fouling Didi before the first goal. There is one thing I am sure of though, if Didi does play he will do what he always does, and that is quietly and calmly help orchestrate another fine victory.       
© Neil D 2005


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