Didi Hamann interview: Liverpool NOT title challengers, Klopp will have to consider selling Salah in January

Didi Hamann

Former Liverpool and Newcastle midfielder Didi Hamann sat down to chat with Neue Online Casinos about how his former Premier League sides have fared already this season and looked ahead to the upcoming Champions League campaign.

As well as that, the former Germany international discussed where it has gone wrong for Die Nationalmannschaft since the early exit at the 2018 World Cup, whilst also previewing Bayern Munich’s season ahead with England captain Harry Kane spearheading their attack.

Full Transcript

Didi, I’d like to get your reaction to the Liverpool/Wolves game. What were your thoughts?

DH – It’s not the first time they’ve gone behind this season. Once again, the substitutes make a big difference. Wolves is never an easy game – despite what people say.

There are no easy games in the Premier League and Liverpool made it harder than the game should’ve been, but they found a way to come out on top. It’s a very encouraging start to the season.

There’s been a lot of reaction to Liverpool’s midfield rebuild. What are your opinions on the signings of Mac Allister, Szoboszlai, and Endo? Are you happy with how Liverpool have done their business?

DH – I am happy with the business Liverpool have done. They lost Milner, Fabinho, Keita, and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the summer and it’s not often that so many players depart in the same window. Perhaps Liverpool could have signed one or two midfielders last summer, but they got the business gone in the end. Midfield is where you win or lose football games and I thought this season would be trickier.

It takes time to settle new players into the side, and that’s why I’m surprised they’ve all started so well. Szoboszlai looks a great player and Mac Allister is a class act. Endo had a tough start against Newcastle, but I have faith he’ll come good. I have faith in all of these players. It’s early doors. I still stick by my pre-season prediction of Top Four constituting a solid season, but if they keep playing like this, Liverpool could aim a little bit higher.

What can fans expect from Endo? He seemed like a left-field signing, but the data suggests he can do all the things Liverpool need.

DH – He’s a leader who kept a struggling Stuttgart side together. He’s very disciplined, as are most Japanese players. He’s technically very gifted, two-footed, and a great reader of the game. I think that’s well-needed. Liverpool have so many gifted players in forward roles, but you need a player like Endo in the side to sit and keep his position. He’s exactly the type of player Liverpool need. Mac Allister can play there, but he likes to venture forward more and involve himself in the offensive side of the game.

Are you surprised by Szoboszlai and how quickly he’s fitted in? He was very highly rated in Europe. To settle into the Premier League at his age has taken a lot of people by surprise. Were you surprised by how well he gels into Liverpool’s midfield?

DH – Szoboszlai has a lot of confidence. I remember him playing for Salsburg against Liverpool a few years back. It was a Champions League game and I remember leaving, being really impressed with Dominik.

I think he was only 18 or 19 then, but he seemed to have no fear. He did the same thing at Leipzig. Players normally need a few weeks to settle into the Premier League, but even I’m surprised with how quickly he’s settled.

It’s been 8 years since Steven Gerrard left. His shirt number went to Naby Keita, but he fell by the wayside. Now Szoboszlai has inherited the number 8 shirt. Would you say he’s a worthy successor to Stevie G?

DH – We’re only five games in! Stevie’s legacy at Liverpool is second to none. He was a true leader who always popped up with important goals in the Champions League and FA Cup finals. He had so many great moments.

I think Szoboszlai has the ability to be a very good Liverpool player, but it’s still early doors. Let’s judge him after some more time has passed. It’s impossible to overtake Gerrard! Dominik is a very confident young man, and he’ll believe he can do great things for this Liverpool side.

Was Steven Gerrard the best player you’ve played with? Or is he one of several great players you’ve been teammates with?

DH – It’s very hard to compare players. I played with Lothar Matthäus, who was a world-class player, but he was coming to the end of his career by that point. Michael Ballack was outstanding. I also played with some great defenders.

It’s very hard to compare players of different positions. Gerrard certainly had the ability to change games as he had a great strike on him, great technique, a great crosser, and when he changed gears, he was almost unstoppable. When I look back on the world-class teammates I had, nobody could change a game like Stevie. It’s easy to defend goals, but to make and score them is the hardest thing.

What do you think of Liverpool’s title chances this season? They have a favorable fixture list ahead. By the time they play City on Nov 25, they could have a lot of points under their belt.

DH – I’d have to rule out a serious title bid. Things can change quickly, but I’d like to see a bit more from this Liverpool side. Things might look good on paper, but a lot of Liverpool’s struggles come from being unable to break teams down.

When teams put 10 men behind the ball at Anfield, Liverpool have tended to struggle. I think this is where Nunez comes in – look at what he did at Newcastle. Liverpool have a lot of options, but I think this season could be his. Overall, though, I’d say Liverpool aren’t contenders. City remain the benchmark.

You mentioned that Liverpool have a hard time beating low-block teams. West Ham come to Anfield soon, and they’ve seen success playing this way. How do you see this game going? Do you think Nunez will be the difference?

DH – I think it’ll be tough. Every game in the Premier League is. West Ham have had a decent start to the season and they’ll be full of confidence despite their loss to City. What makes me a bit more confident about Liverpool, however, is the arrival of Nunez.

The hardest thing in football is trying to play through 10 players, and players like him will add a different option. He can run onto long-balls and get behind defences. Liverpool aren’t really a crossing team, but Darwin allows you to play this way when things are congested.

I know you’ve previously suggested that Jurgen Klopp’s cycle will come to an end at some point. Do you think he’s still the right man for Liverpool as the years go on?

DH – As I said, we’re only five games in. Rebuilding a club is a major task, and the only modern manager who has successfully rebuilt an entire squad is Alex Ferguson. He won the Champions League in 1999 with players who were in or just past their prime, and then in 2008, he won it again with the next generation of players.

Klopp could prove me wrong, but I would state again that if things turned sour at Liverpool and Klopp left on good terms, then it would be a great shame. I think Liverpool invested very well despite not having the funds of City or United. I was never against Klopp, but I did say that it’d be a shame if he left on bad terms. Liverpool have started well, though.

You mentioned Ferguson’s approach with players. If you look at Japp Stam, David Beckham, and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, you’ll notice that Sir Alex moved them on at the peak of their powers because it was in the club’s greater interests. Do you think Klopp will take that approach with Mo Salah? He’s been linked to a move to Saudi Arabia.

DH – If Salah wants to leave in January, then Klopp will have to think about it. Ferguson took that approach because he knew he could reinvest that money. Klopp doesn’t have the same option – hence why he kept hold of Mane and Firmino for several years. As far as Salah goes, I don’t think they should lose him for free next summer. If the Saudi option is still there in January, then he’ll have to think about it.

Plenty of players can play in Salah’s position, though hardly anyone can match his quality. Jarrod Bowen has been linked as a Salah replacement – do you think this would be a good option?

DH- We’ll have to see. Buyako Saka has been mentioned, too. Just take a look at Salah’s numbers – he’s scored 20+ goals in all but one of his Premier League seasons and he’s never injured.

His numbers are incredible and the comparisons to Rush, Fowler, and Owen are valid. Salah isn’t even a center forward and he’s up there with the true Liverpool greats. He makes goals, too. He’s just brilliant. It’s impossible to replace him like-for-like.

Is it a case of trying to tempt Arsenal with big money for Buyako Saka?

DH – It depends if Saka wants to leave – he’s a London boy. Liverpool have never been known for breaking transfer fee records, either.

We don’t know when or if Salah leaves yet, and by the time he does leave, somebody else could be on the radar. There are players at Brighton doing great things, for example. I think it’s a bit early to discuss Salah’s replacement.

I’d like to switch gears and talk about Bayern. What did you think of their game on Friday night? There seems to be a genuine title race in Germany at the moment.

DH – It was a brilliant game of football. Leverkusen have been great to watch, but I’d say Munich were hard done-by with the penalty being given. Leverkusen deserved the draw, but how it played out was fortunate for them.

I think they can run Bayern close – just look at the depth of their squad. Bayern have great players, but their squad isn’t the biggest.

It’s great to see Xabi Alonso, your old teammate, doing so well. What is it about midfielders that makes them such great managers?

DH – I’m not a manager – so I’m not the best person to ask! I’d say center forwards tend to have natural ability and rely on instinct. I’m not saying strikers don’t have to think, but midfielders have to read the game and analyze it as it develops. They have to have eyes everywhere.

Full-backs have the touchline next to them, so they don’t have to possess the vision a midfielder has. If you look at Guardiola, Arteta, and Alonso, they were great readers of the game. I think that helps. You’re able to teach players about everything.

I’d like to talk about Thomas Tuchel. I’ve heard that there are reports in Munich about his erratic behavior over transfers. Are there any fears in Munich about him and his job?

DH – I think it could get hot for Tuchel over the next few weeks. The football hasn’t been great and Bayern lost a lot of games last season. They won the title last season by chance! His record hasn’t been great, either.

The Bayern board weren’t happy with his comments regarding the club’s need for a number six. They have Kimmich, who played in that position for years, and his comments will have upset some of the higher-ups. The Paulinha saga was a tough watch. Yes, he had a good season at Fulham, but this is Bayern Munich. Kimmich, on the other hand, is a senior player at Bayern and one of the most respected voices in the dressing room.

I think Joshua was hurt by his manager’s comments. They’ve also lost Neuer to injury and Thomas Muller has become a bit-part player.

It seemed odd that he made such a big effort for Declan Rice. He was always going to either Arsenal or Manchester City. Were you surprised by Bayern’s pursuit of Rice?

DH – It was a concern because Bayern really needed a new center-forward after losing Lewandowski. They lost out on Kolo Muani and Victor Osihmen this summer and a new striker has been high on their agenda. I never thought the Rice bid was realistic.

What are your thoughts on Harry Kane so far? Does he help their chances for league and European success?

DH – Kane will give Bayern hope. When he made his debut in the Super Cup, the whole stadium stood up and welcomed him. Bayern fans are used to great players, but Harry Kane’s arrival got fans very excited. He’s started very well.

Harry needs a functioning team, though, and he needs quality service. Bayern are doing OK at the moment, but Kane needs everybody to be on top of their game. I’m not seeing quality service so far though – if you look at his touches, you’ll find he has to drop deep or even play on the wing to receive the ball. The fact that he’s still managing to score goals goes to show just how good he is.

You mentioned Kolo Muani and Victor Osihmen there. Both were linked to Bayern in the summer, but Kane was the striker they went with. He’s obviously a great player, but he may not have been the type of striker Bayern wanted to sign. Do you think Muani or Osihmen are more suited to how Bayern traditionally play?

DH – Kolo Mauni has an age advantage as he’s only 24. Osimhen is still in his 20s, too. The one thing I’d say about Kane is that we don’t know what kind of player he’ll be at the end of his four-year deal.

He’ll still score goals, I’m sure, but I’m not sure he’s the long-term solution Bayern were looking for. We’ll have to see. From a transfer fee perspective, I think the other two strikers would have made more sense. They’d have more resale value, but that’s not the case for Kane.

It’ll be interesting to see how Bayern fare in the Champions League. They’ll face Manchester United this week, and the Red Devils aren’t in a great place so far. Do you think Bayern will fancy their chances, despite not fully clicking themselves?

DH – It’ll be interesting to see. Man United may not be what they once were, but they’re still a massive club. I think it’ll be a tricky game for Bayern because they’ll be expected to win and anything less than a 2 or 3-nil win will be seen as disappointing. That expectation can be on players‘ minds, especially when your opponents are being presented as underdogs.

Newcastle will play AC Milan on Tuesday in their first Champions League game in 20 years. Considering how AC Milan’s weekend went, would you say Newcastle are playing them at the worst possible time?

DH – I’m not too sure. Milan would’ve got a lot of stick after the derby defeat this weekend, but both teams showed last season they can be up there with the best. There’s an air of uncertainty.

Milan could be doubting themselves after a result like that, and it may not be a bad time to go to the San Siro. Confidence will be low. Newcastle were excellent last season, but they haven’t clicked this season yet. Milan would be a good place to finally gel.

Why do you think Newcastle have started so slowly? Have teams figured them out, or is it a case of new signings not clicking yet?

DH – I thought Newcastle’s recruitment was brilliant last season. Bruno Guimarães and Sven Botman were amazing and they didn’t cost a fortune. Everybody knew their place in the side. With Tonali, they’ve brought a player in to help the club reach the next step, and that can upset the dynamic of the squad.

The arrival of big players can do this. That’s what I’d put their slow start down to. The manager has to be sensible and figure out exactly how to treat the new arrivals, especially when they have the name value of Sandro Tonali. Teams knew how Newcastle played last season, but that didn’t stop Newcastle from winning games.

What’s it like for players who aren’t used to European football to suddenly find themselves in the Champions League? It is a tough transition? European football is quite different to league football.

DH – I think the Newcastle players will be very excited. A lot of the players in the squad are internationals, and they’ll have experience of playing in big competitions with their countries.

Players want to prove they belong in the Champions League, and I’d say Newcastle do belong there. It’s exciting times, and I’m sure they’ll be up for it.

How far do you think Newcastle can go in the Champions League? I think a lot of players will be surprised by playing at St James‘ Park as the ground isn’t as fabled as other stadiums in Europe. Do you think Newcastle can go far powered by their home fans?

DH – I can see Newcastle getting out of the group. Dortmund aren’t playing well, and Milan and PSG are having their own issues. I think Newcastle can get out of the group, but you do need a bit of luck.

I can see Newcastle in the quarter-finals, or even the semis. The hardest thing, though, will be graduating from their very tough group. A lot of teams wouldn’t like to play Newcastle.

Definitely. Craig Hope reported that Jadon Sancho could be of interest to Newcastle in January. Do you think Eddie Howe could be the manager to get the best out of him?

DH – I think Eddie’s greatest strength is the rapport he has with his players. It doesn’t matter how gifted the players are, it matters how well they want to perform for their manager. I’m surprised Sancho didn’t succeed at Man United, but a lot of other players haven’t performed there, either. I think Sancho and Newcastle could be a great fit.

Let’s talk about the German national team. Hansi Flick has recently left, and Julian Nagelsmann has been linked. Do you think he’s the right man for the job?

DH – Julian is only 36, and I think we need a more experienced manager. In international football, experience counts for a lot.

We have a lot of experienced managers that I’d put ahead of Julian. I don’t think he’s quite ready, as talented as he is. We’re at home in Euros, and we need an experienced hand.

Euro 2000 proved to be a massive turning point in German football as it was clear wholesale changes needed to be made. A few years later, Germany were in the 2002 World Cup final and started competing for trophies again. Fourteen years later, they were World Champions. There has, however, been a decline since then. What would you put the malaise down to?

DH – Enough players weren’t brought through the ranks. Young German players haven’t been taught what to do with the ball and too much emphasis has been put on what to do without it. I think the science of pressing has taken over too much.

We all started playing football because we watched what our heroes did with the ball, the magic of football has been taken away from them. When they get to 16 or 17, they realise they’re not very good in possession. You can coach players in regards to physicality or mindset, but you can’t teach them how to play football at that age. I think that’s where we’re going wrong. Kids are losing interest in the game. They don’t want to chase the ball for two hours.

It’s understandable to coach that aspect of the game, but no kid got into football to do just pressing drills! Does the German FA have to have a rethink?

DH – That’s what they’re trying to do. From the ages of five to eleven, players play 3v3 games. It gives the kids more touches and more time on the ball. I’m not sure if that’s the answer.

It’s also a problem in society – we used to be good at a lot of sports, but not so much anymore. We need to see the bigger picture, however. Germany is doing well and not many kids are going hungry. Perhaps other nations are just more developed from a sporting aspect.

Hopefully Germany can do that. Jurgen Klopp has turned down the managerial role on many occasions. Is that a dream for German fans?

DH – Jurgen is committed to Liverpool, but a lot of people would love him in charge of the national team. I think international managers are more suited to older managers, though, as the workload isn’t as high.

Jurgen would be great down the line, but we need to find solutions now. If Klopp wants the job at some stage, I’m sure they’ll find a way to make it happen.

Going back to Bayern – how far do you think they can go in the Champions League? They haven’t got past the quarter-finals in three years. Do you think this could be their year?

DH – I don’t think Bayern are contenders. I think the squad is too thin and there are issues within the team. Tuchel’s relationship with some players doesn’t look right.

Bayern should get out of the group, and then it depends on who you face after that. I’d be surprised if they went past the quarters.

I wanted to finish talking about Ireland. What’s your opinion on Stephen Kenny? He seems to be on his last legs as their manager.

DH – Kenny has won five out of 25 or 27 games. I know they had hard groups, but Ireland always seem to find a way to get beat! They’ve lost out on three competitions now, suffering defeats to Luxembourg, Greece, and Armenia. It’s simply not good enough.

Ireland have a very strong production line at the moment, with four or five players under 23 who are really special. How important do you think Ireland’s qualifying exploits are? They’ll need to make the most out of this generation.

DH – It’s very important for Ireland, but the manager just isn’t winning enough games. The nation has some special players coming though, and they need to find the manager that’ll get them results.

Let’s talk about Evan Ferguson. He seems to play beyond his years. How impressed have you been with him?

DH – Evan is a very mature player. If you look at the goals he’s scored, he’s like an 18-year-old in a 28-year-old’s body. He’s a big unit with very good feet and elite finishing.

He has the world at his feet and he gives Ireland such a boost. I think he could carry the team and make the other players better as he gives his teammates confidence. Ireland haven’t had a player like this for 10 or 15 years – but they’ve got one now. They also have two very good goalkeepers and a few decent players. I don’t think they need much more to be successful.

What does success for Ireland look like? Is it just qualifying for tournaments, or could they achieve more?

DH – They need to qualify. Look at what the other nations have done – Finland, Slovakia, Wales, and Scotland have all been to major tournaments, and Ireland need to join them.

You won’t get easier groups by losing all the time, though. They need to start winning and take it from there.

Who do you think is the favorite for Euro 2024? People are saying if England don’t win, then Gareth Southgate will have failed. Is there, however, another team lurking in the dark?

DH – I think England should have a trophy by now. Italy were there for the taking at the Euros, but Southgate didn’t do it. Look at the players he has at his disposal.

I still think France are the benchmark – just look at their squad. A wealth of talent. Camavinga and Tchouaméni are so good and still so young. I’d say France and England are a touch above the rest.

A lot of people are saying that they wouldn’t have Gareth Southgate as their club manager. If Southgate doesn’t win Euro 2024, should that cause him to leave his post?

DH – You can always make excuses, but what happened against Italy shouldn’t have taken place. They were terrified of England’s pace, and England shouldn’t have lost after being 1-0 up.

An elite manager gets the best out of his team. England have done well, but they need to start beating teams who are as good or better than them. Southgate has had three bites already and will have his fourth next summer. If he doesn’t win, then I think England should start looking for a more positive manager.

When people talk about Southgate in 10 years‘ time, people could very well refer to him as the guy who couldn’t win anything.

Didi Hamann

Didi Hamann, born on August 27, 1973, in Waldsassen, West Germany, is a football legend who over the course of his illustrious career, he established himself as one of the most respected midfielders in the world. He joined the youth academy of FC Bayern Munich and quickly progressed through the ranks, making his professional debut for the club in 1993. Hamann's breakthrough came when he signed for Newcastle United in 1998, becoming the first German to play for the club. His performances in the Premier League caught the attention of Liverpool, where he made a move in 1999. It was at Liverpool that Hamann enjoyed the most successful period of his club career. During his seven-year stint at Anfield, Hamann won numerous accolades, including the UEFA Champions League in 2005, the FA Cup in 2001 and 2006, the UEFA Super Cup in 2001 and 2005, and the League Cup in 2001 and 2003. One of the most memorable moments of his career came in the 2005 Champions League final win against AC Milan. After his time at Liverpool, Hamann played for Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers before retiring from professional football in 2011. Didi Hamann represented the German national team, earning 59 caps between 1997 and 2006. Following his retirement as a player, Didi Hamann transitioned into a successful career in football punditry and coaching. He worked as a television analyst, providing insightful commentary on various football events and matches.