Germans are renowned for their efficient, no-nonsense nature and those are adjectives which perfectly sum up the Liverpool career, and indeed the playing career as a whole, of Dietmar Hamann, the midfielder who served the red shirt with distinction for seven years at the start of the 21st century. He was also cultured in possession, though, and was one of those reliable team members who did the basics right and enabled the more expressive players in the team to flourish. Unfailingly honest both on the pitch and off it, Hamann was a tremendous asset to the Reds during his time at Anfield.
The Didi Man, as he was affectionately known in some quarters, began his professional career at Bayern Munich, graduating from the amateur ranks in 1993 and playing alongside giants of the German game such as Oliver Kahn and Lothar Matthaus. The ice-cool Hamann was not fazed by such intimidating company, settling quickly into the first team as a dependable central midfielder. It was a measure of his no-frills, reliable nature that even in the 1995/96 season when civil war raged throughout Bayern, the young midfielder got on with his job and enhanced his reputation while many around him were put through the wringer. Hamann really matured into a key player when Giovanni Trapattoni took over as manager in 1996, playing his way into the Germany squad for the 1998 World Cup. Despite being 25 at the time of the finals in France, he was the second youngest member of an antiquated Nationalmannschaft squad.
Hamann moved to England that autumn, joining Kenny Dalglish’s Newcastle, whom he helped to the 1999 FA Cup final. That was the second year in succession that the Magpies reached the Wembley showpiece, only to be beaten on both occasions. Ahead of the 1999/2000 season, Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier spent £8 million to bring him to Merseyside, a not inconsiderable sum at the time. After a relatively tame first season at Anfield, Hamann came into his own during the tremendously successful 2000/01 treble-winning campaign, in which he played 53 games during a packed season and became an integral part of a rapidly improving Liverpool team.
Hamann also looked after himself very responsibly, never falling victim to even medium-term injury in his time with Liverpool. When a teamsheet was released without his name on it, you’d nearly have to check it again in case your eyes had glanced over it erroneously. Even when Liverpool regressed in Houllier’s final two seasons at the club, the German continued to do what he did best, keeping things ticking over as best as he could and providing a solid, experienced partner for a maturing Steven Gerrard.
Hamann’s place in Liverpool legend was sealed during the 2004/05 season, when he was at the centre of some key moments en route to their Champions League triumph. With Gerrard missing the first leg of the last 16 clash with Bayer Leverkusen through suspension, Hamann assumed the captaincy and scored a sumptuous free kick against the Bundesliga outfit. He started the final against AC Milan on the bench but, with Kaka running riot and the Italians 3-0 up, Rafael Benitez made a game-changing substitution, replacing right-back Steve Finnan with Hamann, whose brief was to stifle Milan’s playmaker. He did that job to perfection as Liverpool stormed back to equalise and it was the German who scored the first penalty in that epic shoot-out. He repeated the trick a year later at the Millennium Stadium as Liverpool beat West Ham on spot kicks to win the FA Cup, his second success in that competition for the Reds.
It was with a heavy heart that Hamann left Liverpool in the summer of 2006 and, having seemed to be on his way to Bolton, where he signed terms but was never officially registered, he instead joined Manchester City, then a directionless mid-table outfit. He was only a sporadic presence in the first team under former Newcastle team-mate Stuart Pearce in his first season in Manchester, but became a regular in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s starting XI during 2007/08. He was at the club when the fateful Emirati takeover took place, but with the healthily bankrolled Citizens splashing the cash on big-money signings, Hamann’s time there came to a close in 2009.
Hamann did not have a club for the following season, eventually joining MK Dons as a player-coach in summer 2010, staying for eight months before taking a coaching role at Leicester. His only stint as a manager was chaotic and short-lived, holding the reins at Stockport County for just four months as the calamitously-run club languished in the Conference. Hamann ultimately resumed playing the game at amateur levels, representing German club TuS Haltern.
In recent times, he has been a regular presence as a TV pundit, most notably with RTE in Ireland. It is in this role that he has gained widespread praise for blunt yet intelligent analysis, articulating himself extremely knowledgeably and playing the measured yin to Eamon Dunphy’s raging yang. Hamann is proving in his work as a pundit to be just as cultured and comfortable as he was during his successful playing career. German efficiency indeed.