An Ode to Didi Hamann: The Unsung Hero of Liverpool's Mythical Istanbul Successby Robbie Copeland
A lot went down on 25 May 2005.
An overachieving Liverpool team, starting a Champions League final with Djimi Traore, Harry Kewell and Milan Baros had the odds stacked against them before a ball was kicked in Istanbul.
Within a minute, that mountain gained altitude when Paolo Maldini opened the scoring, but Everest had nothing on the task Rafa Benitez's Reds were facing by 22:30 local time.
Hernan Crespo, having given Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia perhaps the worst 45 minutes of their professional careers to date, had struck twice, and a star-studded Milan team had their name engraved on the trophy.
Famously, however, the script was torn up, and Liverpool - claiming their fifth European Cup - left with the trophy to keep.
No shortage of Anfield heroes were made that night. Steven Gerrard for kick-starting the comeback; Vladimir Smicer for his thumping long-range drive; Xabi Alonso for running the midfield show, and sparking incredible scenes with his equalising goal; Jerzey Dudek for his decisive, historic penalty save.
It was the most celebrated night in Liverpool's modern history, end every player in the squad - down to substitute goalkeeper Scott Carson (who kept out Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alessandro Del Piero in the quarters) - is considered a legend.
But if there's one player who truly deserves all the credit they can glean for the Miracle of Istanbul, it's Dietmar Hamann.
The diligent German is a name perhaps unfamiliar to a younger generation of fans; his star is in no way comparable to that of Gerrard or Alonso; but for seven years, he was one of the most reliable and underrated players in English football.
Comparable to Gini WIjnaldum, except with less flair and more physical imposition, the role he played in his team's historic fightback was not unlike that the Dutchman played in sinking Barcelona at Anfield.
Emerging from the bench to replace the injured Finnan, Hamann's introduction led to a change of shape; out went the back five, as Hamann - who it later transpired played the entire second half, extra-time and scored a penalty with a broken foot - joined the midfield to provide his more esteemed contemporaries with a platform on which to build attacks.
All of a sudden, a Milan quadrangle which boasted Rino Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo and Kaka - which had been so relentlessly effective in the first half - went missing.
The shield the fearsome yet upbeat Hamann provided for a struggling back line was immeasurable, but so too was his presence. He was seen furiously roaring his teammates on from the moment Gerrard's header looped over Dida, and his role as the anchor and heartbeat of the team - which had been sorely missing to this point - was characterised as he recycled possession and laid off Smicer for goal number two.
With Gerrard as the driving force, Alonso the intelligent presence between the lines, and Hamann the steady base, the Liverpool midfield looked unplayable. And as the atmosphere in the Ataturk Olympic Stadium hit fever pitch, it was no real surprise when Gerrard went down in the box, allowing Alonso to convert the equalising penalty on the rebound.
The fact that the game turned 180 degrees so rapidly - Alonso's penalty hitting Dida's net in the 59th minute - was a testament not only to the incredible fighting spirit possessed by Benitez's squad, but the influence exerted by their understated German leader.
Was it a surprise when the responsibility was placed on Hamann to step up first in the shootout? Was it a surprise when he gently stuttered and powerfully side-footed the ball past Dida? Was it a surprise when a Hamann-inspired Liverpool lifted the trophy?
Anyone who watched the game at the time would tell you 'not a chance.'
Few players have ever changed a single game in the way Didi; whether through his leadership, his physical presence, his technical ability or the tactical versatility he provided; shifted the destiny of the 2005 Champions League.
The Istanbul heroics might be typically associated with Benitez, Gerrard, Dudek, Alonso and Simcer, but in many ways, it will always be the Hamann final.
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