On His Liverpool Career
You lost an FA Cup final in your first season in English football with Newcastle. Did you ever imagine that you would go on and win so many cups during your playing career in England?
No, not really. You never know what’s around the corner, and obviously, I heard of the interest of Liverpool a few weeks after that cup final.
I enjoyed my time at Newcastle, we had very good players and we probably should have done a little bit better with the players we had. After hearing that Liverpool were interested, my mind was made up pretty quickly. When I went to Liverpool the club hadn’t won much for the last decade and I don’t think anybody could foresee what was going to happen over the next few years.
Lets talk about that move to Liverpool. Sir Kenny Dalglish, left Newcastle shortly after you arrived, was that difficult, and did Kenny have a hand in getting you over to Liverpool?
It wasn’t hard, it’s just the way it is. I was a bit surprised because the summer I signed for Newcastle Stephane Guivarc’h and Nobby Solano and one or two others also joined the club. To see the manager leave after two games was strange because they gave him money to sign a few players in the summer.
We drew the first two games; at home against Charlton, and then away to Chelsea. After two games he was gone, and then obviously the new managers coming in (Ruud Guillit) and he’s got different ideas
I got injured in Ruud Guillit’s first match against Liverpool, ruptured my middle ligament and was out for eight or nine weeks. I came back and didn’t go straight back in the team because we had Gary Speed, David Batty, Solano, Rob Lee – very good players in midfield.
It wasn’t really working until Christmas, so I made an agreement with the club that said if another team pays the money thay they had for me, I could go in the summer.
It was a verbal agreement, which can count for nothing, but I started scoring a few goals and things did change, but no, Kenny didn’t have any input in the move. I saw Terry McDermott, who was his assistant a few times after he’d left the club with Kenny, but no Kenny had nothing to do with it.
You arrive at Liverpool and you’re joining a team and there’s a little bit of a sea change there in terms of Gerard Houllier trying to change the perception of the club, the whole sort of spice boy culture, getting rid of a lot of popular English players. As a German coming into this environment, how did you feel?
I got on with all the English lads, and when I went to Liverpool there was no German speakers, which probably helped with the language, similar to Newcastle. I mixed and mingled with the English lads, and I didn’t really care where people are from, as long as they were good because as a player you want to win games and you want to win trophies, and the better the players the more chance you’ve got.
I met some of the guys who had to leave when Houllier took over, but I think he kept some very good ones. There was a crop of young English talent coming through with Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Danny Murphy and little David Thompson, and he brought six or seven foreign players in. At first, I thought he was taking a bit of a chance, but it worked out pretty nicely.
It worked out incredibly because you’ve got that first season where I suppose everyone’s kind of bedding in and getting to understand a little bit more around how Gerard works, and then in that second season you won a magnificent treble that started with the League Cup.
Liverpool play in the League Cup final on Sunday, it’s the first domestic trophy that’s available, how much confidence did winning that trophy give you to go on and lift the FA, and UEFA cups later in that season?
It was huge. I think you have to go back to the last game of the season before because we played Bradford away, if we had won we would have got in the Champions League, they needed to win to stay in the league and they beat us 1-0 – they stayed up and we missed out on the Champions League.
I think in hindsight it was probably a blessing in disguise because I’m not sure whether we would have been ready for the Champions League playing with the best teams. I think the UEFA Cup was a nice steppingstone, and obviously, over Christmas we were still in all the competitions, and then at the end of February we played Birmingham at Cardiff. It was huge.
I don’t think you can compare it with the final this year because both teams won the Champions League in the last few years, Liverpool won the League, so it’s different, but for us it was huge because it was a game that could have gone either way.
Birmingham played ever so well and they took us to penalties. Once it goes to penalties, it’s a bit of a lottery, and fortunately we were able to score one more than they did. Had we not won that game I’d say we wouldn’t have won both of the trophies, we might have won one, but I think in all likelihood we probably would have ended empty handed that season.
When you joined Liverpool, were you expecting to have so much success so quickly?
Not really, no. I knew that they had some very good English players, and Gerard Houllier he was like a schoolteacher, and I think what he was very good at was bringing people together and creating an aura of respect, dignity, and discipline at Melwood. I think the English players enjoyed it as well because they needed guidance, if you listen to Michael Owen, if you listen to Steven Gerrard, they will all tell you he had a huge influence on their careers.
He had a very good backroom staff. It was just a happy place where every day you went to training with a smile, which I think is half the battle.
There was that core of outstanding young British players – Carragher, Gerrard, Owen, Danny Murphy, David Thompson. As a guy who’s coming in with a little bit more experience, could you see straight away that these guys had unbelievable potential?
Michael Owen had already showed it in 98, which was a year before I signed for the club, with what he did to Argentina in the World Cup. It was remarkable, the calmness he had to run through those players, and then finish the way he did.
I think that everybody knew that Mike was a special talent, and a special player. With the others, you could see the talent, but I’ve seen very good players in the past who didn’t improve as much as these guys did.
When people ask if I knew Steven Gerrard would be a superstar after seeing him play for the first time, I couldn’t say yes straight away but you could see he had an awful lot of talent. He was obviously a bit raw, and a bit rash because he tried to do everything on the football pitch when he was younger.
It’s down to the manager. It’s down to the players to guide him and to give him the help he needs – as a team we needed Stevie and later on, he needed us to a certain extent because we gave him the freedom to express himself.
You could see they were very talented players. A lot of credit should go to Gerard Houllier who really brought out the best in them and kept them on the straight and narrow, which is always a problem when people go off, have a bit of success, it goes to their head. But they were all good, humble, nice lads and Houllier did the rest.
You played under some pretty special managers. What was your relationship like with Gerard, and would you consider him the most influential manager you ever worked under?
I probably had one or two managers before that in Giovanni Trapattoni and Franz Beckenbauer, who took me to the first team (at Bayern), so without these two, I probably would have never made it to Liverpool.
I wouldn’t say he was the most influential, but my relationship was always good with him, he was always very open. He didn’t like it when players had a drink and once or twice I got pulled when Carragher showed me around Bootle, and he found out. With me being the older, more senior player, obviously I got blamed for it.
When he pulled me, he didn’t have a go at me, but he just let me know his feelings; what he thought about me when he found out that I had been out when I probably shouldn’t have been. I saw it a bit differently, but, apart from that, I always had a very good relationship with him, like all the other players.
Everybody held him in the highest regard – he would always ask how yours family, kids, he was a family man himself, and he wanted everybody to feel at home in Liverpool. I think that’s what he managed to do, and that’s why I think we had the success we did under him.
He must have trusted you implicitly because if you look at those – especially in that 2001 season, I mean all of the finals you were starting those games, as a player, having the trust and confidence of the manager. Does that give you an edge when you go out and perform?
I think it’s essential. He paid £8 million to sign me from Newcastle. When a manager pays that much money for you, you almost feel indebted to him, and you feel you want to pay him back for the confidence he’s had in you.
Similarly to Newcastle, I got injured in the first game. I only had two or three weeks pre-season because the transfer negotiations with Newcastle took a bit longer than expected and we played the first game at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday, I got injured and I was out for seven or eight weeks.
When I did come back my ankle wasn’t 100 percent right. I probably played two or three games where I shouldn’t have played, but I wanted to play. I wanted to show him that I can help the team and I didn’t want to say no to him when he said can you play.
That was probably a fault on my behalf, nothing to do with him. I couldn’t wait to get started and try to get that form for Liverpool that got me the move in the first place.
Across your career Didi, you’ve played with some brilliant midfield players, who would you consider the best that you’ve played with?
You play with certain players at different stages of their career, I think that’s what makes it a hard question to answer. I played with John Barnes at Newcastle for a season, who probably goes down as one of the all-time greats of English football.
I played with Lothar Matthäus, when he was well into his 30s. Then I came to Liverpool and saw some of the young players becoming some of the best players in the world, so it's very hard.
I’ve got to say – when you forget about what they’ve done before and what they’ve done after, when I played with them, the two that stand out are Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard.
Owen peaked when he was 19 or 20, which sounds a bit daft, but with the injuries he had afterwards when he went to Real Madrid, and then at Newcastle, we had him in his prime when he was 19, 20, 21.
His pace just opened games up. When we played away from home, the midfielders didn’t want to close you down because they were going backwards because they were so scared of his pace, so they ended up defending 20 yards in front of their own goal, which obviously gave us midfield players a lot more time on the ball, which we wouldn’t have had without him.
The other player is Steven Gerrard. He could decide games in a split second. He was a fantastic crosser of the ball and probably one of the cleanest strikers of the ball, which helped him score a lot of goals from long range.
He had fantastic vision; in fact, he had everything. Players who can decide games in a split second are few and far between, and he’s done it – he did it in the Champions League final when he scored that all important first goal. So I think these two stood out.
You won the League Cup twice while you were at Liverpool. Liverpool are joint record holders and have lifted it eight times, do you think there’s a special romance between the club and the competition?
I’m not sure there’s a special romance. During our time – when I came to Liverpool – if you asked me what’s the most likely cup to win, I would have said the League Cup. At the time, the top clubs, which we weren’t, didn’t take it too seriously because they would have been in the Champions League or in a position to win the league, so the League Cup was always a bit of an afterthought.
That’s changed now because there are so many teams who can win it. If you look at the Premier League, you’d probably give every team a chance of winning it because even the bottom teams have great sqauds now, which was a bit different in my time.
That was probably the reason. Maybe we took it more seriously than other teams, I don’t know, but we won it twice. We probably should have won it three times, when Chelsea beat us in 2005, so I hope that Liverpool carry on the tradition – let’s hope they make it nine on Sunday.
In the first League Cup final that you played in, you missed a penalty in the shootout, but obviously, won the tie. Can you describe what happens to a player when they step up to take a penalty in a final, and how you felt after missing the penalty to lift the trophy?
I wasn’t too bothered about the penalty, the most important thing is that you lift the trophy. Obviously, you’re gutted at the time – you feel like you’ve let your teammates down and the fans down.
We were one ahead, so it mattered, but it didn’t matter in the greater scheme of things because we were still level at the time. Carragher converted the last one, they missed and it was such a relief because I can only imagine how that feels, but as I said, it didn’t bother me too much.
I can’t even imagine what it is like to lose a cup final because you’ve missed a penalty, but these things happen, there can only be one winner. I learned from it because I just hit it as hard as I could. With years gone by I felt that if you place a ball, it’s a lot more likely that the ball ends up in the goal.
That’s what I was going to ask you because after that, if you look back at the other finals, over the next four seasons you appeared in three finals and made massive contributions. In the second League Cup final, you laid on the assist for Owen in 2003, in Istanbul you took the first penalty and put it away, and you repeated that trick the following year in the FA Cup.
When you’re taking those penalties did you think about what had gone before it?
No, I never thought about what happened before. In the Champions League final four years after the League Cup final, I probably forgot about it by then and wouldn’t have thought about it for one second.
Benitez was a big studier of penalties for and against, what keepers do, what players do. And I started reading a few things because we never practised penalties, but we went on a pre-season to America 10 months before the final, and he let every player take five penalties after a training session. Those were the only penalties we practiced that season. Leading up to the semi-final and final, we never practised penalties.
I came across one stat that said if you hit a penalty above hip height; if you hit the top half of the goal, you’ve got a 91 percent better chance of scoring. Even if you hit it next to the post, if you don’t hit it hard enough the keepers, they tend to all dive down, nobody is diving up, they only go down, and the penalty is saved on the floor. That was one thing I had in mind when I hit these two penalties, and I probably couldn’t have hit them any sweeter. Penalties don’t need to be hit that hard, if you hit a certain height, placement beats pace.
You had the clear headedness to think about that as you stepped up in those environments?
Yeah, but you don’t take much notice of anything when you’re in that zone. The manager asked me twice whether I want to take one, and I nodded, and he came back in both games and said you take the first one.
In Istanbul it was made a bit easier because Serginho missed the first one, but then it’s all about keeping your focus and believing in your own ability. In the FA Cup final, Shaka Hislop was the keeper for West Ham and he didn’t stand right in the middle of the goal. Sometimes keepers leave one side open as a trick and then it becomes a mind game – is he taking the side that’s open, or is he taking the other one?
I was going to go to my right because I went to my left in Istanbul, I thought I’d go to my right and that was the one he left open, it was only a few inches, but obviously, if you stand right in front of him you can see that he’s not in the middle of the goal.
I thought to myself, if he doesn’t move… I’ll put the ball where there’s more space, and he didn’t move early, so I just put it into that right corner, and as I said, I struck them both pretty sweetly. If you hit them at a certain height they do go in.
On The League Cup Final
What type of match are you expecting on Sunday?
Chelsea is stuttering a little bit at the moment, even though they get results. They won the Club World Cup, they did well to do that. They won a tight game at the weekend. Lukaku seems a bit out of form, I think he only had seven touches all game the other day against Crystal Palace, which is a worry for Chelsea.
I don’t think the Chelsea squad is as deep as it probably should be. I’m not sure they have enough competition for places. I am not totally convinced about the look of Chelsea at the moment, but I do like them in knock out competitions, I think they can always be a force, they had huge success last season, although this season they’ve still got to look over their shoulder because they’ve still got to finish well to reach the top four because there’s one or two teams who have got games in hand.
I think that this Liverpool side is far superior than Chelsea at the moment, whether that’s enough to win the game on Sunday remains to be seen, but with Diaz coming in, it’s an extra option going forward. van Dijk seems to be back to his best, they hardly concede goals, which was the reason – as good as they are going forward, they won the league and won the Champions League – the defence give nothing away. I make Liverpool favourites, I would even go a bit further I would say and make them strong favourites.
Do you think that Liverpool can repeat the trick of your team of 2001, and use the League Cup to go on and pick up a treble? It’s never been done before, could these guys win everything?
Ours was called the baby treble. I would have rather won the treble they might win this season with the Champions League and the League, not the UEFA Cup, and the FA Cup. In the Champions League I thought Bayern Munich might have a chnace, but they have two injuries now in Kimmich and Davies and they may not come back for the season. Without those two, Bayern won’t win the Champions League.
City and Liverpool, you’ve got to say they’re as good as qualified with the results they had in the first leg. I find it hard to find anyone that can beat them over two legs. I think if these teams can avoid each other, there’s a very good chance that they’re going to face each other in the final.
In the League – Liverpool were so impressive against Leeds and they’ve still got to go to The Etihad. Liverpool’s record there is not the best, but I wouldn’t rule them out. City had a great run with 15 or 16 games unbeaten. Liverpool are good enough to do that from now till the end of the season.
The way they beat Inter the other day, they didn’t really play particularly well, but they don’t concede, and they’ve got an outstanding goalkeeper, van Dijk seems to be back to his best, Konate was outstanding, I just have a feeling that they will peak at the right time.
Do you think for Liverpool to win the league that they need to be perfect?
No, I don’t think so. If you look at the games they’ve got left, there are some hard games, but they are winnable. Liverpool probably have to beat City at The Etihad. If Liverpool get beat at The Etihad, I think it’s all over. I don’t think 10 games is enough to make up six points on City.
Sometimes I like to have a look – I did it as a player – how many points are needed to get in the Champions League, or to win the League. Lets assume that Liverpool beat City, that will mean they both have 63 points after 27 games, 11 games left, so they could get to a max of 96. I reckon you might need 90, maybe 87/88 is enough, but I don’t think that either team is going to win the last 10 or 12 games like they did two years ago when they went head-to-head and they kept winning all those games. I don’t think that will be the case this season.
Liverpool and Chelsea play two very different styles of football, but whose football would you prefer to watch, if you were paying?
I like to watch successful football, whether it’s Tuchel or Klopp. If it’s successful then great, but then you need to see what players you’ve got, and what Tuchel has done at Chelsea has been brilliant. Sometimes when a manager is sacked, you always see a reaction, and I think that was the case, with Chelsea.
I don’t know what happened under Lampard, but it was evident that they were defensively a lot more solid when Tuchel came in. The way he sets his team up, I like watching Chelsea, as I said, they were very clinical. The way they played against City in the Champions League final was was simply outstanding.
I want to see successful football, that’s what I appreciate. Managers who can get the best out of their teams – I think both do really well. The difference with Klopp is he’s been there for a number of years now and I’ve got a feeling the players will run through bricks wall for him.
I think that’s one of his biggest attributes, he’s got a relationship with the players. That’s why he’s so confident before games. That’s why he trusts his players so much because he knows they leave everything out there.
Tuchel, when he left Dortmund there was always talk that he didn’t have that relationship with the players, and I don’t think Tuchel will be at Chelsea as long as Klopp has been at Liverpool, because I don’t think he’s that type of manager. He’s a very strategic manager, where man management comes second, or third. With Klopp, it’s first, and this is why I think they are two completely different coaches, with two completely different teams. I don’t think Tuchel will achieve what Klopp did at Liverpool.
It’s a one off game on Sunday, it can go either way. I think Liverpool is so stable at the moment, they seem to be so confident. I think it will be the same story on Sunday.
Is there anyone in that Chelsea side that you would be worried about?
The one player who’s done well and of course scored in the Champions League final is Kai Havertz, but I still think he’s only done half of what he’s capable of doing because I think he’s such a good player.
Sometimes I feel he’s held back, or he doesn’t know how good he is, he’s an outstanding player. He’s obviously a different type of player to Gerrard, but he’s a player who’s quick, not as quick as Stevie, but he’s very smart with his runs.
He’s a player who can decide a game in a flash. Lukaku seems to be a bit off form at the moment, I think van Dijk and whoever plays, they will be able to handle him. You’re looking at the likes of Harvertz, Zyech, Mount, they’ve got some good players.
Timo Werner doesn’t play any role whatsoever, and that’s what I mean, they don’t seem to have the options Liverpool have got or the manager doesn’t trust them, and I think they could be a problem for Chelsea on Sunday.
You mentioned Havertz Didi, and it’s interesting because I had a chat yesterday with Florent Malouda, and he also highlighted Havertz, but he said something similar to you in the fact that he’s a guy who’s got so much potential, but we haven’t really seen all of it yet.
it seems churlish to criticise a man that scores the winner in the Champions League and Club World Cup final, but I think we all can see there’s so much more to come from him.
I don’t know. It’s a bit comparable to Leroy Sane. When Sane came to City, he didn’t have a great first season, he gave balls away, he didn’t play with any confidence whatsoever, and all of a sudden he started playing, scored a goal and things changed.
Havertz has achieved everything he would have wanted to achieve, he went to Chelsea to win the Champions League and to win the Club World Cup. He’s done that and not only contributed, but scored the winner in both games. For the Chelsea team to give him the ball to take the penalty, shows how much they rate him, how much they appreciate him.
He’s a very humble kid, so it’s not that he’s getting carried away with the success he’s having. I think it’s the opposite. Maybe the manager should give him a bit more of a push and say, ‘come on, show what you show Monday to Friday in training, show that on a regular basis,’ because so far he’s not done it. I can only assume it’s a confidence thing. But it does sound strange after what he’s achieved in the 18 months he’s been there.
It’s bizarre because you look at it on paper and think wow, but I think we all know he can do a little bit more.
Germans and the Premier League. Did you think the success of Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool has paved the way for coaches like Tuchel, and I suppose to a lesser extent, although he’s kind of going in in a bit of quasi role, Rangnick coming into United?
Yeah. There were other managers in lower leagues. Farke at Norwich, Wagner at Huddersfield, who got them promoted to the Premier League. If it wasn’t for Klopp, I don’t think some of the other guys would have got a chance.
Tuchel certainly would have after his periods at PSG and in Dortmund, but I think some others have benefited. We’ve seen it in the past with French managers, with Spanish managers, Portuguese managers, if it all goes well and people come looking.
Also to a certain extent Rangnick because if you look at his CV, he wouldn’t strike you as a Man United manager, and obviously, it remains to be seen whether he keeps his job, but yes, I think a lot of German managers benefited from Klopp.
Did you ever think you’d see the day when you had the manager of Liverpool, Chelsea, and United all being your fellow countrymen?
No, I don’t think anybody would have foreseen that, and funnily enough Klopp and Tuchel made the first steps at Mainz, so Mainz produced two of the world’s best trainers. They both won the FIFA Manager of the Year in world football. It’s astonishing that a small club like Mainz, who do a great job in the Bundesliga produced two of the best managers.
I think we had a bit of a drought for a while, we had a lot of foreign managers here in Germany, but now the Germans go to England and go all over the world. It’s good to see, but then again, these things go in cycles, I don’t think in three, five, eight years’ time we will be in the same situation.
Maybe we will talk about three Spanish, or three French, or even three English managers. An English manager hasn’t won the league since Harold Wilkinson with Leeds, which is very strange. It goes in cycles. It’s a great moment for German football, for German culture, for German managers, I don’t think it will last forever.
Because of the German coaches that are in the Premier League, what’s the interest like in Germany for the domestic league?
It’s huge. People love the Premier League and, now even more so because we’ve got all these German managers over there. Also, Guardiola, the Bayern Munich fans adopted Guardiola when he was in Munich for three seasons, so he’s classed as half a German as well, so we’ve got all bases covered.
The interest in the Premier League has always been huge because it’s the most natural football, it’s the quickest football, you don’t get free kicks when a player goes down, there’s just more flow to the game.
I think the referees, yes they come under pressure, but that’s more to do with the video system than the referees. They just let the game flow. If a player ends up on the ground in Germany, nine out of 10 times there’s a foul, in England that’s not the case, they just judge every situation as it happens. I think this is why it’s the most flowing game, it’s the quickest game, it’s the most physical game, and with the German managers being over there now, interest has only increased.
During Klopp’s 5 year tenure, if you could identify or pick one really important moment, what would it be for him?
The most important moment, and I came in for some stick for saying this, but in his first season, they lost the League Cup final to City on penalties – I was there at Wembley, it was a game that could have gone either way, it goes to penalties, you know it happens.
Then they played the Europa League final against Seville. They battered Seville in the first half, they were all over Seville, winning 1-0 and they ended up losing the game 3-1, and deservedly so. In the second half they were non-existent, and after the game the club extended his contract, and I said at the time, ‘he lost two cup finals, he’s got three years left on his contract, how can you extend his contract, what sign does it send to the fans, to the players that losing a final is acceptable?’ I came in for some stick, but I would say the same thing again. I think what happened, after the Seville game, he knew they threw the game away. They should have been two or three up at half time, and they ended up losing the game.
After that game, he knew which players he can keep and which to change. More often than not, a turning point comes from losing a game rather than winning one because you don’t really find out much about a team when you’re winning, you find out more about a team when you’re losing. I think that was probably the case, and I think that Seville game opened his eyes to what he has to do at that club.
You mentioned losing teaches you more than winning, if you go back to that Champions League final where they lost to Madrid, and Ramos does the ugliest challenge you’ve ever seen on Salah, totally cynical, takes him out of the game, is that an example of that never say die resilience, that mentality of coming back the following year and actually doing it?
Something similar happened in Germany when Bayern Munich lost to Chelsea, and they ended up winning the Champions League the year later at Wembley against Dortmund. These are the signs that the all-time great teams show.
If you have a setback like they did, losing the way they did against Madrid with Salah coming off, the keeper making a couple of mistakes, to come back the next season shows an awful lot of strength and requires an awful lot of mental strength.
Klopp’s got to lead by example because whatever he said after the Champions League final, the players must have bought into it. He probably said “forget about it, we had our shot, didn’t work out, we’ll be back for more next year” and they did comeback. You learn an awful lot about yourself and your team when you lose games.
This was the path of being successful. When they played Madrid they had a pretty good team. They’ve improved since, but they had a pretty good team. That match taught them what they needed to do to finally become Champions League winners.
When I look at this Liverpool team, I see a British core there, guys like Henderson, Trent Arnold, Andy Robertson scrapped it out at Hull, worked his way up and playing at Liverpool now. And your team had a similar core of local guys and people that knew the club inside and out. How important do you think it is for building brilliant winning teams to have that core?
It’s a good bonus when they’re English, but I don’t think it’s essential they’re English – look at van Dijk, he’s been there a few years, the fans think he’s one of their own, and he probably thinks the same – I think that’s the most important thing.
Look at Sadio Mane, they all want to be there. There’s always talk that Salah might leave, or might not. But you feel that they’ve bought into that city, into that club because I think you have to understand the people to be successful in Liverpool.
To me, whether they’re English, African, or wherever they’re from, I see a team every week that gives everything and doesn’t want the fans to go home disappointed. They leave everything out there, everything they’ve got. If the other team is better they are better, but I think that’s the most important thing.
Then you talk about that spine. Becker, van Dijk, Fabinho and then you can name either Sadio or Jota, or any of the other two lads on the wing. If you’ve got a solid base it makes it a lot easier for the forward players to excel, and a lot easier for them to take a chance.
They know even if they lose a ball these guys will hoover up and nothing will happen. For me, this is one of the best teams in history, not only for Liverpool, but in English history.
The only thing that’s probably missing this season is Wijnaldum. He hasn’t been replaced. He didn’t play every week, but when he did play he so often scored goals. And that’s probably the type of player, the only type of player that is missing because Keita hasn’t really done it, Oxlade Chamberlain hasn’t really done it, Thiago has been very injury prone, when he comes on he does the job but for me that’s not enough. For the time he’s been there, it hasn’t been enough and a Wijnaldum like player is the only thing that’s missing to make the team impeccable.
What do you think of Harvey Elliot? He’s played in a few games this year, obviously had a nasty injury, but do you think he could be a potential successor to Wijnaldum because he looks like he’s got goals in his boots?
He can play a bit further forward. Klopp’s given him a massive vote of confidence, bringing him back after a long injury, starting him in the San Siro against Inter Milan. He’s got the right coach, he’s got the right players.
What we must not forget – you become a better player by training with the best players, and that’s what he does on a daily basis. He should soak up everything. He should watch these guys before training, what they’re doing during and after training, and then find his own way to implement what he learns to get better.
He’s talented but, as I said before, talent doesn’t count for anything. If you haven’t got the right head on your shoulders, you won’t make it. I hear he seems to be a very nice and humble guy. He’s got the potential, but he’s got a long way to go as well.
A moment ago you mentioned this could be one of the best ever Liverpool sides in history, maybe one of the best sides that’s ever played in England. What’s the secret to Jurgen’s success?
First of all, you’ve got to say they bought some outstanding players – van Dijk, yes he cost a lot of money, so did Fabinho, so did Becker, these guys are outstanding players, then you have Mane and Salah.
I think the secret is to have 16, 17, or 18 world class players. Every time they walk onto the pitch, all of them put the team first their own interests behind them. Nobody thinks about themselves, they all think about the team.
That’s not an easy thing to do because when you’ve got these big players, if you look at Manchester United, you look at other clubs, there might be one or two players who think they’re bigger than the team, or bigger than the club. At Liverpool that’s not the case, Klopp won’t allow that. When you’ve got these type of players, these quality players, and they all pull in one direction, anything is possible.
We’ve spoken quite a bit about Klopp, and rightly so because he’s magnificent, but Didi, if you look to the future, life after Klopp – does that worry you?
No, it’s a chance for somebody else. In modern football, if you look at the time managers spend at clubs, the average tenure is between 11 and 13 months. I think we should appreciate the good times and the length of stay he’s had. He’s been here for five years now, it might end up being seven or eight. There might be a time where the punters say, ‘well we want him out,’ things change quickly!
He said he doesn’t want to extend his contract, I think he’s got two or three years left, and it must require a lot of energy to manage a club like Liverpool. To keep 22 players happy, telling so many players they’re not in the squad, all the media requirements, it must be very taxing and testing to be a manager in the modern day.
Let’s hope we have him for a few more years, and when he finally decides to call it a day, it’s a chance for somebody else, but it won’t be an easy job to follow him. Steven Gerrard said, ‘yes Liverpool one day, but I won’t go straight after Klopp,’ but somebody will. It’s an opportunity for somebody to manage one of the biggest and most unique clubs in the world, so give them a chance.
Liverpool’s performances this year Didi, we’ve mentioned that we feel like they can probably reach a few more levels yet, but which players have impressed you the most this season, and why?
Jota has been brilliant since he signed. He’s very reliable. People thought what happens if Fermino had a rough spell, but he came in and he’s just been unbelievable. He sets up goals, he makes goals, scores goals.
People probably expected a bit too much of van Dijk after being out for almost a year. I think he needed a few weeks, or months, hence they conceded probably more goals – remember the game in Brentford where they conceded three. He seems to be back to his best. They’re probably the two players, but it’s hard to say because the first 11 is full of world class players, but I’d say these two probably have made the biggest difference.
Your old teammate Danny Murphy said on radio the other day that he feels that the media in this country do not appreciate Mo Salah enough, would you agree with that statement?
I’d rather ask the question as to why he hasn’t won the Balon D’or. You can make a case for Lewandowski who didn’t win one either, he won the FIFIA Best because they’ve got all these awards, but the Balloon d’Or is the one and I think it should have been between Lewandowski and Salah. I think Salah finished seventh, or something.
I think the appreciation outside of England is probably a lot less than it is in England. I think he should have been in the mix to win one of those. He scored 150 goals. We compare Salah’s numbers to the best centre forwards Liverpool have had, Liverpool have probably had in the last 20 or 30 years always one of the best strikers in the world. If you look at Fowler, if you look at Owen, Rush, Aldridge, Toshack, Torres, Suarez, you know, Salah gets compared with these guys, he plays on the wing.
These were out and out centre forwards. This guy is playing on the wing, and he amasses the same numbers as these guys do. I don’t know what it will takes for him to win one, but I don’t think he could have done any more than he did in the last two three years. He’s simply an outstanding and unbelievable player.