My love affair with Liverpool
by Dietmar Hamann
Headline, £16.99
Reviewed by Rob Hughes
From WSC 303 May 2012

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For a man whose diligently effective playing style did little to dispel that old cliche about cold German efficiency, Dietmar Hamann is a burning romantic at heart. At least when it comes to the institution he served so well for seven seasons. In this hugely engaging memoir, written with Malcolm McClean, he likens his "magnificent romance" with Liverpool to "a passionate, flaming and enduring love affair" with both club and city.

The feeling, of course, is mutual. Hamann was brought in by Gerard Houllier to anchor a midfield that included rushing young bucks Steven Gerrard and Danny Murphy, though he will forever be remembered for his Champions League final appearance in 2005.

On for the injured Steve Finnan at half-time, the authoritative Hamann not only helped stem the Milanese tide but eventually turned it around in Liverpool's favour. When it came to penalties, he was the first man up, holding his nerve to score despite a broken bone in his foot. And all this after Rafa Benítez had told him he would be shipped off to Bolton at the end of the season.

The real selling-point of this book is Hamann's receptivity to the game and those around him, his cool wisdom warmed by a self-deprecating humour and a constant desire to better himself. When it comes to the national team and his career at Bayern Munich that legendary Teutonic discipline is no myth, he declares, but his compatriots are anything but the emotionless worker bees of popular belief.

He is fascinated with Benítez, calling him the only footballing genius he has ever met – and this from someone who played under Franz Beckenbauer, Giovanni Trapattoni, Kenny Dalglish, Ruud Gullit, Sven-Göran Eriksson and Otto Rehhagel. Though he is astute enough to realise that Rafa's own "extraordinarily high standards" played a major part in the Spaniard's downfall.

Contrary to the impression given by his own doughty on-field demeanour, there are moments of real levity. At Bayern he tries to dodge German national service by enrolling on a theology course (students were exempt from army duties), later thanking God for the loophole. And there is one mirthful episode where Trapattoni, in a motivational speech ultimately derailed by the vagaries of German slang, exhorts his charges to "show the fans that we have a fanny".

Hamann's extended stay in England also gave him a unique vantage point on contrasting sporting practices. He equates the average Premier League dressing room to "an underground nightclub", all thumping beats and blaring music. He much prefers the quietude of the Bundesliga version, which habitually carries the air of a library. There is also an incisive opinion on England's lack of success at national level, citing a strangely parochial "me culture" and singling out Paul Gascoigne as its most high-profile symptom.

That said, he is not beyond self-admonishment either. Hamann is painfully honest about the break-up of his marriage and his subsequent gambling addiction, an expensive pastime that nearly lost him £300,000 on the outcome of a test match between Australia and South Africa. It all makes for a thoughtful, unusually expansive account of a footballer's lot. Highly recommended.

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