Milan meeting to offer Hamann perfect finale to Anfield career

With the exception of a winner's medal from the Champions' League final against Milan, Dietmar Hamann would like nothing more when he leaves Liverpool than to be regarded as an honorary Scouser.

Wednesday's tussle for the European Cup in Istanbul is expected to be the Merseyside swansong for the Germany midfielder. After six years and more than 250 appearances for Liverpool, the 31-year-old is out of contract during the summer and is poised to leave Anfield, probably for Bolton Wanderers, even if the Italians are defeated.

Liverpool have proposed a 12-month deal - half Bolton's offer - and lined up Owen Hargreaves from Hamann's first club, Bayern Munich, to replace him. The uncertainty has not diminished his sense of anticipation about the final. Since the semi-final win over Chelsea, people have been stopping him in the streets to wish him luck and tell him what the trophy means to them.

"If we hadn't realised before what kind of club we were playing for, I think we all know now," he said. "The size of this club becomes clear on the biggest occasions and stages. Liverpool is a special club. You can see what a magical place Anfield is on European nights.

"I've never known anything like the atmosphere after we scored early against Chelsea. Even in the warm-up, the noise was unbelievable. The fans raised their support to another level, so we did the same. If they let me be half a Scouser, an honorary one, I'd take it."

Should the man known as "Didi" help Liverpool reclaim the prize they once won four times in eight years, he might find himself offered the freedom of the city. Wherever next season finds him plying his trade, he will treasure the memory of the run that now leads him to Turkey.

"We've deserved to get there, though we had other targets at the start of the season, like a top-four finish to make sure we qualified again for the Champions' League," Hamann said. "That's where everyone wants to play and where the money is generated. We haven't lived up to expectations in the Premiership, but we've had a very good European run."

A second 3-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen produced Liverpool's finest away performance under Rafael Benitez. "It was then," said Hamann, "that we started to think: 'Why can't we keep going'?"

As underdogs against Juventus and Chelsea they recorded three clean sheets. His "spoiling" role will be vital if they are to repeat the feat against Milan, especially Andrei Shevchenko, who he rates one of the world's top three strikers.

"We'll need to concentrate throughout to keep him quiet. Breaking down their attacks in midfield will be significant. We'll have to improve again to win the cup. Milan have been favourites since back in August, alongside Chelsea and Barcelona. They won this competition only two years ago, so they know they can win it, which is a big advantage. But we've beaten some very good teams, and we do go there with a chance."

Tactically, how does Benitez set about beating Carlo Ancelotti's team? "We've got to pressurise them high up the pitch and try to keep them away from our goal as long as possible. We've watched bits of their semi-final against PSV Eindhoven. They were on the verge of going out, so they are fallible, but we'll need to be on the top of our game."

It remains baffling that Liverpool can beat the English and Italian champions while losing at Southampton and Crystal Palace. Hamann's view lends credence to the theory that Benitez - who led Valencia to the Uefa Cup last year - comes into his own in Europe whereas he is still adjusting to the Premiership. "The manager just seems to have us tighter in defence and better organised for Champions' League games."

Win or lose this week, Hamann believes reaching the final will give Liverpool "belief and encouragement" for next season. "The team need to start better away from home. We didn't get battered on our travels. They were mostly 1-0 defeats, so we need to tighten up, score a few more and raise our game as we do in Europe. I don't think we're that far away."

Hamann's future will be decided in the coming weeks. "I didn't want to be disturbed with any contract talks in the build-up to this match," he said. "I'd rather focus on the game. We've got a chance to actually lift the Champions' League trophy. Just one more game to win, and we'll do everything to make sure that happens. To win this competition, where Liverpool made their name, would be absolutely unbelievable.

"I'm still not certain what I'll do next season, and there is still a chance that I'll stay here. But if do leave, this would be the best possible finale."

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