Didi Hamann just can’t seem to make his mind up this week, but maybe that’s all part of the art of being a Twitter provocateur.
On Monday, when SPORTbible declared it “official” that the 2007/08 Manchester United team had been voted the best Premier League team of all time, the ex-Manchester City and Liverpool midfielder wasn’t having any of it.
“We beat them twice with City, they can’t have been that good,” he harrumphingly quote tweeted, referring to the Blues’ unforgettable double over Sir Alex Ferguson’s title-winners under Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Well, unforgettable unless you’re a particular type of SPORTbible enthusiast, anyway.
But Hamann isn’t just here for the needle. After United produced the latest installation of their acclaimed DIY comedy series Downing Tools After Half-Time with Ralf Rangnickhe was all sympathy.
“Manchester United have gone beyond a joke,” Didi tweeted after the Reds’ 1-1 draw at Burnley, channeling his inner Morrissey.
“Feel for the fans who’ve been put through nine years of misery since Sir Alex left, they deserve better.
“Always looked up to them, not for a while.”
It’s safe to say the City and Liverpool fans who make up the bulk of any Didi Hamann Twitter Venn diagram did not necessarily share the sentiment.
For starters, United have actually won trophies during this supposed fall period. When Hamann was arguably City’s best player in that stirring 2-1 win at Old Trafford in February 2008, they had not won so much as a raffle on the other side of town since 1976. And the trophy drought still had a little over three years to run.
It’s a curious mix of views and the same can probably be said for Hamann’s standing with the City fanbase as a whole.
Some of that is down to remaining Liverpool loyalties and him being one of those Bayern Munich old boys who has seemingly taken against Pep Guardiola for having the temerity to waltz to three successive Bundesliga titles.
But it’s also indicative of one of the most uneven City careers at an utterly bizarre time for the club.
(Bolt)on and off again transfer
In summer 2006, Hamann wrapped up a seven-year association with Liverpool and signed for City… from Bolton Wanderers.
He signed a pre-contract agreement with Bolton, only to have a “change of heart” and succumbed to Stuart Pearce’s advances.
Ex-Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside bragged in a talkSPORT segment with Hamann in 2013 that his club never actually signed him.
“What you never realized was that we never actually countersigned the papers and just put them in the drawer,” Gartside said. “The next thing we know, you came along and told us you’d got this opportunity to go to Manchester City – so we actually sold you without actually signing you; did you know that?
“We got £400,000 from Manchester City for a player we never actually signed – and that’s the truth.”
This sparked a Premier League investigation that reached a conclusion of weird bravado on the part of Gartside. However briefly, Hamann was indeed registered as a Bolton player.
What unfolded at City that season under Pearce maybe made him wish he’d stayed up the road in Horwich.
No goals and gaffes
A Bolton side featuring ex-Blue Nicolas Anelka finished seventh, while City languished in 14th, having almost entirely forgotten how to score goals.
The exemplary central-defensive alliance of Richard Dunne and Sylvain Distin meant Pearce’s side avoided paying too steep a price for not netting a single league goal at home after New Year’s Day.
It would be nice to say they were expertly screened by an esteemed defensive midfielder. But that would be a lie.
Hamann looked woefully off the pace for much of the campaign, although Joey Barton and Ousmane Dabo were his regular midfield partners. Barton ended the season out of the side and on his way out of the club after beating up Dabo in training. Perhaps Didi got off lightly.
When Sven-Goran Eriksson arrived to succeed Pearce for the following season under new owner Thaksin Shinawatra, it was expected Hamann would be swept away by the blizzard of new signings.
But there he was, alongside eight debutants to feature over the course of the 90 minutes, as City stylishly beat West Ham on the opening day of the season.
Swashbuckling with Sven to Hughes’ Blues
As the creative talents of Stephen Ireland, Michael Johnson, Elano and Martin Petrov swarmed ahead of him, Hamann directed traffic impeccably during the opening weeks of the campaign as City made a flying start under Sven.
They faded badly after the turn of the year but he was still masterful in the win at Old Trafford, where City becalmed opponents on their way to Champions League glory and were deserved victors.
Despite Dunne getting sat off in the ludicrous 8-1 final-day loss to Middlesbrough, City qualified for the UEFA Cup via the Fair Play League and Hamann scored his only goal for the club away to Faroe Islands outfit EB/Streymur.
He began the next season under Mark Hughes, playing either side of the Abu Dhabi United Group’s takeover – impressing as City beat Sunderland 3-0 thanks to two goals from Shaun Wright-Phillips on his second debut and in the 3-1 loss to Chelsea when British record signing Robinho landed with a goal.
However, for entirely different reasons to the campaign under Pearce, City were a team in flux once again. Hamann began to look his age at him and a half-hour substitute appearance in the humiliating 3-0 FA Cup third-round defeat to Nottingham Forest proved to be an inauspicious swansong.
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Nigel de Jong arrived later that January, with Gareth Barry coming in the summer. A year later, Patrick Vieira and Yaya Toure were in situ.
City’s midfield and the club as a whole were off in an entirely different direction. Hamann and other odds-and-sods signings of the years immediately before the two takeovers were relegated to footnote status.
Maybe we should enjoy his indulgence of bragging about those two derby wins in 2007/08: two moments of immense triumph when City did not know where on earth the next real success might arrive.
Come back in a couple of decades, Reds, and we’ll talk misery.
What are your memories of Hamann at City? Follow City Is Ours editor Dom Farrell on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.