It may be personal feelings for his old clubs Liverpool and Manchester City prompting him, but Dietmar Hamann is not yet prepared to nominate Manchester United as Premier League champions. As City entertain Liverpool at the Etihad this afternoon, the German midfielder believes the former can still catch their neighbours to retain the title.
He is less optimistic about Liverpool's immediate prospects, however, considering the squad to be unbalanced because of an over-dependence on younger players.
A transfer window passed with City signing no senior players and selling Mario Balotelli for almost £20 million, which Hamann feels was good business. "Balotelli I think has done them more harm than good," he says. "I spoke to a couple of people there who say he's a nice lad, but all these shenanigans don't help anybody. There have been times when he either didn't seem to be interested or got himself sent off in important games.
"[Roberto] Mancini was very, very patient and I'm not sure he's as good as Mancini thinks he is," Hamann adds. "I don't think there was any improvement. If there had been, people would have said fair play to Mancini for sticking by him. So at some stage you've got to part ways, because the team is bigger than any individual."
On Friday City's manager came out with the big clubs' frequent complaint about the problems of the winter window, claiming: "It's been difficult in January to find really good players for us. Clubs don't want to sell good players now, but maybe they will in the summer. We need to work now for the summer, so it's not like last year. Last year we didn't work well. It's important we start it now and we've started to talk. I have meetings with [director of football] Txiki [Begiristain] every week now about the summer."
Hamann comments: "City have got enough [quality]. They did have last season, they lost Nigel de Jong, who was a big player for them, but they brought four or five in and I think they look a lot more solid with [Gareth] Barry back in the team. I feel if they're seven points or less behind when Yaya Touré comes back from the Africa Cup of Nations then they've still got a chance."
He is less sanguine about what Brendan Rodgers is doing at Liverpool, where January's £20m has bought 23-year-old Daniel Sturridge and a 20-year-old new to England in Philippe Coutinho. "It's a long road if you want to do it with youngsters. Liverpool need to get back into the Champions' League, and with youngsters not all of them I'd think will fulfil their potential. And if one does and you don't make the Champions' League then there's every chance somebody will pinch him.
"You need a balance in a team, young and old, offensive and defensive. Look at Aston Villa. I don't know how good their kids are but in a team of kids you don't give them a chance to develop. You need older players to guide them, somebody next to them when things go wrong."
Hamann did duty for seven years at Anfield, winning the Champions' League and five domestic cups to add to two Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich. At City he enjoyed his middle season with Sven Goran Eriksson more than the first and third under Stuart Pearce and Mark Hughes respectively, eventually becoming a victim of the club's first wave of expensive new signings. "They bought Robinho and others in at that time, but one or two don't win you the League," he says. "Then all the top players they brought in since doesn't guarantee success either but gives you a very good chance."
Hamann is now studying for the Uefa Pro Licence and hopes to return to coaching or management, unscarred by a trying time in charge of Stockport County 18 months ago. "The circumstances were not ideal but I learnt a lot in a short space of time."
As one of the more enter-taining ex-pros on Twitter – when not taking on Joey Barton – he tweets as well as he speaks in his second language, if without the slight Scouse twang: "Santos has got to be up there with the worst players ever wearing an Arsenal shirt," he said after last week's 2-2 draw against Liverpool, then: "I think deadline day is Jim Whites Christmas he doesn't half get excited... Go on Jimbo."
Hamann versus Barton
Didi Hamann says the wild exchanges on Twitter with his former Manchester City team-mate Joey Barton are over and done with now that Barton has issued a formal apology. The recent altercation began with mild exhortations from Hamann not to criticise Newcastle and Queens Park Rangers, who had "paid him well". Barton became progressively more angry, calling the German a "maggot", a "dog", "worst pro I've ever seen" and making insinuations about his personal life. Hamann told The Independent on Sunday: "You know what he's like. He's a good lad and I do get on with him, but something must have made him angry. We played together for a year and I didn't have a problem with him. He was very apologetic the next day, he phoned me and said he was out of order. And he had to make a full apology, otherwise I'd have taken it further. But he put something on his website. Now it's finished. Move on."
'The Didi Man: My Love Affair with Liverpool' is published in paperback by Headline, £8.99.
Manchester City v Liverpool is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm