The HamburgHammer Column

Embed from Getty Images

Early admission here on my part: When I was a kid I was a massive Beatles fan. My classmates in contrast were ecstatic about whoever was top of the pop charts in 1982 or 1983, having a crush on or wanting to be like Nena, Paul Young, Rod Stewart or Kajagoogoo.

I, meanwhile, basically got most of my early understanding of English from listening to Beatles songs on cassette (children, if you don’t know what a cassette is, ask your parents or grandparents) rather than during boring English lessons at school, reading about the bog standard Clark family and their exploits in Epping for the umpteenth time. The course book contained exciting dialogue under evocative headers such as “Do you like rice pudding ?“, “Let’s swap!“ or “At the department store“.

I learned the difference between there, their and they’re this way, granted.

Embed from Getty Images

The music and words of The Beatles were more appealing, though.
“The Fool on the Hill“ was lyrics wise a bit deep for a 10-year old just starting to learn English. Still, I could have listened to those songs eight days a week and although I wasn’t living at Penny Lane and didn’t have a Ticket to Ride either, I still built myself a very impressive drum kit out of my mom’s discarded boxes of washing powder plus some other household leftovers. I even arduously painted the Beatles logo on the front in big black felt pen letters, just as I had seen on several of the 15 posters or so which were gracing my room’s walls. And then I tried to drum along to the songs like a German amateur Ringo Starr, struggling to keep up at times.
Especially after “playing“ for more than an hour.

I obviously knew The Beatles were from Liverpool, that they had started their career in the music clubs of the St.Pauli area in my hometown and that they were musical icons still a decade after their break-up.

So I figured that Liverpool must be the best place in Britain, if not the world. Hallowed ground. The inofficial capital of cool.

Now, after more than 25 years of being a Hammer I don’t really like Liverpool anymore. They may eat Labskaus (or Lobscouse) as us Hamburgers are quite fond of doing, but in footballing terms Liverpool are seriously getting on my nerves.

It’s not just their sense of entitlement either. Or their tendency to assume a role of the forever victimised outsiders. It’s more their unnecessary resorting to cheap tricks and downright cheating when their players have more than enough quality to beat an opponent fair and square.

Embed from Getty Images

Should I be more sympathetic just because they’re being managed by a fellow countryman, the walking toothpaste advert Jürgen Klopp ?
Should Jennifer Lawrence be seductively soaking herself with a loofah in my bathtub just because I can offer plenty of hot water with some top notch Lavender & Rosewood-scented bath foam in it ?

Embed from Getty Images

Answer: Probably yes, but, in reality, NO, get real!!! :-))

I think West Ham did cope well with Liverpool, all things considered.
Say what you like about the reigning champions, their injury list, their weakened defence: They still have a ridiculously dangerous forward line and midfielders providing plenty of attacking prowess plus the ability to keep the ball.

72% possession and 828 passes tell their own story.
Still, they only just secured all three points.

The penalty was always going to go their way though as Masuaku did actually make clear contact with Salah in the box and most PL strikers these days will automatically hit the ground like a wet bag of turnips as players have been conditioned, like Pavlov’s dog, to heed the basic equation that goes Contact with defender in the box + heavy fall + loud scream in agony = penalty.

Nine times out of ten. The tenth time is usually a West Ham striker seeing his very reasonable penalty shout waived off a la Antonio against Man City.

I do even sympathise with Salah to a degree as when I was a kid and wanted my bigger and stronger brother to get in trouble after giving me an almighty Chinese Burn I also sometimes resorted to playacting by pretending to be very hurt, rather overdoing it with my anguished yells bellowed out in shameful pain, just to get my parents’ attention and put them on the case. Pathetic really, I know, but it did work occasionally.

Not always. Sometimes it backfired, with my dad being the strictest of refs at times who just gave the both of us a clip round the ears, usually on Saturday, early evening, telling us to knock it off as he wanted to watch the Sportschau in peace. Oh, the inconsistency of parents and their punishment. Like bloody PL referees they were.

And of course no VAR allowed back then!

Embed from Getty Images

Four Nails had given us an early lead. Lovely worked goal, but scored waaaaaaaayyyyy too early to really bother Liverpool much. The Scousers always have a penalty and a late winner in them, you know. It’s just what they do. They are also loved to bits by pundits up and down the country, almost cheering them on even during what should be impartial commentary. It’s not Liverpool TV. If you want to be part of their club channel, feel free to apply for a role there. BT and Sky are watched by other fans as well, you know ?

I’m sometimes surprised the commentators don’t get caught waving little Liverpool flags emphatically in their little commentary booths when the camera is zooming in on them. It makes my toenails curl up in loathing despair.

Embed from Getty Images

But the media of course got the result they all wanted and craved for.
A draw or, God forbid, a West Ham win was never in the script on Saturday evening. But make no mistake, folks. We were in it.

Even when Haller came off after almost 75 minutes, we were still level. We weren’t cruising at that stage, of course we weren’t. Liverpool were sending wave upon wave of attack at us and when they do that, more often than not, a late winner arrives. Again, it’s what Liverpool do. Especially at Anfield. With fans in the Kop or not.

Let me give you a “Best Of” of my recent comments on Seb Haller, a player I still have high hopes for in a West Ham shirt. He didn’t set the world alight on Saturday against Liverpool, but in a game with not a lot of possession for the Hammers he frankly was always unlikely to be MotM material.

I added the clip above to remind us all of what Haller can do in that area of the pitch which is basically his natural place of work, his office as it were. That’s the opposition’s box. That’s where his strengths come to the fore.
That’s where we need to see him more often with teammates in close proximity to get the best out of him.

Look, I get it. He often looks like a lazy, French sulker extraordinaire out there. You sometimes even saw that gloomy expression on his boat in Frankfurt goal celebrations. Like others, I am also prone to sometimes reading too much into body language of players.

I know he doesn’t run a lot in the centre area of the pitch, he doesn’t close down defenders, sprinting from one to the other for 90 minutes in the faint hope of nicking the ball off them.
(By the way, nicking the ball is only half the trick, you’d also need a teammate close by to make the move count and score.)

There are other strikers out there who are very good at running around for 90 minutes, harassing defenders. However, most of them then can’t do with the ball what Haller is capable of once the attacking move arrives in the penalty box.

Embed from Getty Images

Moreover, Haller actually DOES track back and help out in defence occasionally. He sometimes puts a feisty tackle in. But not often. Why ? Because that’s not his bloody role to play on the pitch! He is not suited as a lone striker. He is not suited to chasing Liverpool defenders all over the park with no support from his teammates to make the most of the situation should Haller actually win the ball.

Yes, we probably bought the wrong player here. If we intend to further cultivate a style of counter attacking football with pace, with limited possession of the ball throughout games, then Haller is not your ideal focal point upfront.

I can only tell you what my mate, the Frankfurt diehard, told me when we signed Haller and he does know a thing or two because before the pandemic he used to travel to Frankfurt games regularly, home and away, being on first name terms with some of the hardcore local supporters.

And he said that Haller’s nonchalant way of running, or rather jogging, around the pitch can be misleading. He said Haller was a proper team player, working his socks off to bring teammates into play and that he was the most unselfish player any manager could ever want in his team.

If it so far hasn’t worked out for him at West Ham I put that down to our tactics not bringing out the best in our record signing which in return has fuelled Haller’s frustration. It may even have affected his love for the game.

It can’t be fun to be asked to adapt to a role that simply isn’t yours. I doubt that any record signing at any club would expect to be asked upon arrival to be something they are not or play a role they haven’t done before. Call me old fashioned, but I reckon if you make someone your record signing then you bloody well scout him several times in person before signing him, you watch hours of tape and if you then decide this is the guy you want, you try to make it as comfortable and straightforward as possible for the geezer to settle in, on and off the pitch.
You treat your record signing with respect and dignity. Have we done that with Haller ? Or have we been negligent as a club ?

Please don’t complain about his apparent laziness when running, he’s never done much of that at Frankfurt and still scored plenty of goals (33) while assisting some more (19) in the 77 games he featured in for Eintracht.
That’s pretty good numbers for a lazy minger.

You don’t hire Lewis Hamilton and then ask him to drive the Nissan Micra to the corner shop to buy a newspaper and a can of Tango. I know many on here will shake their heads at this point and disagree mightily.
Fair enough. I say: Give Haller the next two games at least, against teams that don’t have 70% possession. And judge him after that.

If he hasn’t scored or provided any assists in those two games, by all means get the wheels in motion for a January sale at a knockdown price.
But please: Give the chap a fair crack of the whip here. It took a while to find the right position for Antonio who has been with us for ages now.
He wasn’t scoring for fun in his first two seasons with us either. Keep that in mind, folks!

Embed from Getty Images

A quick word on Covid-19. Starting today, Germany is going into another (partial) lockdown. Most shops, sports facilities, fitness clubs, swimming pools, bars and restaurants will be closed for the entire month. All lower level football has been suspended. Bundesliga games will be played behind closed doors again. People are being told to keep contacts to others to a minimum. Meaning that you basically move in a fairly small circle around your humble abode, only getting out when you really have to, for the weekly shop, to buy medicine or in order to get some exercise in the local park.

I managed to buy a dozen toilet rolls and other essentials on Saturday which should see me through the month. I still vividly remember how empty most shelves were in my local Aldi or Lidl during the first lockdown, so I made sure this time that I wouldn’t be caught in an offside position by my dear neighbours clearing the shelves before I could get there.

This now means a return to reading plenty of books (there is still a stack of must-read-if-I-find-the-time material on my bedside table) and of course watching the USA Election Night coverage on Tuesday night. Shall I buy some popcorn for that ? Or should I stack up on tissues and schnapps to face the music ? We’ll see.
At least there will also still be PL football. For the time being that is. And after West Ham’s difficult early fixtures I am now curious to see what our lads can do against teams who are not Liverpool, Manchester City or Arsenal. COYI!!!

Embed from Getty Images

Hamburg football update: Short one this time. NO lower league football, which means NO Concordia, NO Cordi U23s and certainly NO game for the Cordi Women’s team.
Only the little business of another Hamburg derby on Friday evening which ended in a 2:2 draw in front of 1000 fans inside the 57K stadium.

The point keeps Hamburg SV at the top of the table while St.Pauli not only lose their inner-city bragging rights after winning the previous two derby games, the club from Hamburg’s sinful mile (Reeperbahn and the surrounding red light district), are now also languishing in the midtable section on 7 points. They are at a crossroads at this point and could still get sucked into another relegation battle this season.