Hamann: Ireland now run by winners

Drawing Germany in the Euro qualifiers sent a few shivers down Irish spines still bent under the weight of that humiliating 6-1 World Cup defeat in Dublin in October 2012.

But now comes comfort from an unlikely source — a former German international who is convinced Ireland can grab an automatic qualifying place for France 2016 and who, furthermore, can’t see another collapse against his own country happening under the watch of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane.

“Well, I was at the game that ended 6-1, and you can’t get beat like this, regardless,” says former Liverpool midfielder-turned-television pundit, Dietmar Hamann.

“It was like the Harlem Globetrotters playing an exhibition match. You’ve got to give the fans something, you’ve got to make a game of it, whether it’s Brazil or Germany or Holland. You can get beat and you can hold your hands up and say, ‘okay, you were better than us’ or whatever, but there was no passion or desire, they were second best and there was no belief in the team.

“Now you’ve got a couple at the helm and I think that’s what they will instil in them, because Roy Keane is a winner and so is Martin O’Neill. Is it enough to bridge the gap? I think Ireland will be better for it, because the negativity is gone and they can look forward now so I think they have a great opportunity to finish second in their group.”

Though Didi Hamann is more generous in his overall assessment of Trapattoni’s tenure than most, he is adamant that the new managerial ticket is just what the doctor ordered.

“I think that’s exactly what was needed,” he says. “The fans can’t pick a manager but it looked to me like the whole country was against Trap. It’s unfortunate that it came to this end, because if you look at Trapattoni’s results, I think he probably goes down as — I don’t want to say one of the better ones — but as a good manager.

“They were unlucky against France and they qualified for the Euros. His downfall was probably going to the Euros and making a few daft decisions. In hindsight, it probably would have been better if they didn’t qualify. He might still be here now. I think that’s when people lost faith in him — with some of the substitutions, the players he picked or didn’t pick. That’s what you need — somebody who knows Irish football. Roy Keane could turn out to be a masterstroke.”

Hamann also takes issue with the notion that the new management has been dealt a limited hand in terms of the talent at their disposal.

“Sometimes you only need a couple of players to galvanise a whole country,” he reflects. “Young Coleman plays a big part now; you’ve got (James) McCarthy, Shane Long doing well at Hull. At the back, you need to see whether Dunney carries on. There’s (John) O’Shea. Aiden McGeady coming back, I think that will do him the world of good, he’s someone who can change games. So there are players there and once you have a spine, you pick players around them. And with the management that they’ve got now, I think the future looks good.”

But Hamann stresses that the old virtues of spirit and organisation will always have a big part to play for Ireland.

“Away from home is tough to play in Europe but I think here (in Dublin) they should give anybody a game, whether it’s Spain or Italy,” he offers.

“When I was in Germany we never liked to come to Northern Ireland, Ireland or England. The continental teams don’t like coming here because they know they are in for a game. What Ireland has to do is bring that togetherness, that team spirit back.

“The biggest challenge the top teams always have is when you are physical with them. Nobody likes to get tackled, nobody likes to get kicked. I wouldn’t say kick ‘em (laughter) but you’ve got to be physical with them. If you play Germany at their game, they’re going to batter you. You’ve got to defend deep to deny them space because they’ve quick players, very technically gifted players. And then you need quick players going forward who can get in behind and try to hit them on the break. It’s the only way to play against them.”

Interestingly, Hamann suggests that Germany could struggle to maintain their high standards of recent years.

“They’ve got a few problems,” he says. “The biggest problem they’ve got at the moment is the lack of a centre-forward. I think it will be a tough World Cup for them. Then, moving forward, they have a few players who are past 30. People say, ‘Two years older, two years more experienced’, but in football you have got to take your chances when you get them. They’ve been to three semi-finals and one final in the last four tournaments and didn’t do it.

“I’m not sure whether the team is better than it was in the last couple of tournaments and I don’t think it is, especially with the players that are missing. Some will come back, some will not, some may finish after the World Cup. I don’t want to say they peaked two or three years ago but I don’t think they’ll be any better than last time when they won 6-1.”

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