“Not a bad lad, just not my cup of tea.”
Hamann was an important part of the Liverpool side that achieved success in the 2000s. After signing from Newcastle United in 1999, the German midfielder helped the Reds win two FA Cups, two League Cups, the UEFA Cup and the Champions League.
He was also arguably the key factor in Liverpool’s incredible comeback in the 2005 Champions League final.
Didi Hamann’s role in Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League win.
Hamann came off the bench at half-time of the game in Istanbul, with AC Milan beating Liverpool 3-0 and cruising to another European crown.
The German helped tighten things in midfield and provided a base for Liverpool’s comeback. The Reds got three goals back and eventually won the final on penalties.
Hamann, who scored his penalty in the shootout, credits Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez for the victory and changing the team’s fortunes when he succeeded Gerard Houllier the previous summer.
Hamann on Benitez’s impact at Liverpool.
Benitez arrived at Liverpool from Valencia, where he won two La Liga titles and a UEFA Cup.
According to Hamann, Benitez’s meticulous attention to detail was evident from early in his first pre-season.
The new Liverpool manager called a team meeting and made some observations about the squad’s dynamics. He noted that cliques had developed.
“(Benitez said) You finished 30 points off the top last season but are you a 30-points-inferior squad? No? Then why? He challenged players,” Hamann told The Sunday Times in 2017.
“Rafa said, ‘I’ve been here three days. The last person comes to dinner and the first are already gone. Here’s the English [clique], here’s the French and here’s the United Nations… From now on I don’t want to see you sit next to the same person twice. And the first doesn’t get up before the last finishes dinner. It’s about respect’.”
Hamann: I didn’t speak to Kewell before Benitez arrived at Anfield.
Benitez’s words resonated with Hamann and prompted him to finally have a conversation with Harry Kewell. The Australian winger joined the Reds from Leeds United in 2003.
Yet, despite being teammates for a full year, Hamann had never spoken to his teammate until Benitez arrived.
“I don’t think I’d ever spoken to him (until Benitez arrived). Not a bad lad, just not my cup of tea,” the former Bayern Munich midfielder said of Kewell.
“So I sat down next to Harry, ‘How’s it going H? Missus? Kids? How old are they now, are they in school?’ Twenty minutes later I’m in my room thinking, ‘He’s actually all right’.”
Hamann believes that the Spanish coach improved the Liverpool players and forced them to leave their comfort zone.
He believes that such attention to detail ultimately helped the club record one of their greatest ever victories when they mounted the stunning comeback against AC Milan.
“I’m not saying that’s the reason we won the Champions League, but Rafa started a thought process in everybody that day.”
(Originally published on February 20, 2021).