Marcus Hahnemann is now in his eighth year playing in England. Last season, the Reading keeper helped his team finish eighth in the Premiere League, their first season in the top flight. He recorded 22 shutouts in 38 league games.
After sustaining a seriously broken right hand in the final match of last season, Hahnemann returned to Reading’s starting lineup las Sunday against Manchester United and held the champions to a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.
On Monday, Hahnemann spoke by telephone from England with Jack Bell of The New York Times. Here is a transcript of that discussion.
Q:We know you’ve been there before, but what was it like to take the field against Manchester United’s star-studded lineup on Sunday?
A: They are such a good team with so many unbelievable players. I mean even players in the stands. You kind of forget about that once the game starts. But once it’s over and I got to see the highlights, I saw the camera panned the players sitting in the stands: Tevez, Solskjaer and Neville. Then you look some more and see five more guys. I’m just like, ‘Oh my gosh, they are so deep.’ And that’s the thing about those teams, teams like Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool - it’s not just the 11 guys on the field. Those guys have unbelievable teams behind them.
Q: So, when you played Man U, is it impossible to concentrate on any one or two players?
A: Well, there’s Ronaldo, Giggs and Rooney. Those three guys are unnerving when you try and play against them.
Q: How do you focus yourself for games?
A: It’s kind of funny. Last year we got promoted to the Premiership. In the past, I’ve like to exchanged shirts with an opposing player. But for the first seven games in the Premier League I didn’t do it. I didn’t want to feel like I was just happy to be there. I wanted to make sure I had, and the team had, arrived first before I started getting mementos. Then we went up to play at Man U and I took my wife. She thought it was pretty cool. That’s when we knew we had arrived.
No, it’s kind of is almost like a job a little bit, now because when you’re on the field you really don’t get to take in the atmosphere. We played in a Cup game at Old Trafford in which I didn’t play. The stadium wasn’t quite full, there were a couple of thousand empty seats. But when I was on the bench I had time to look around and take in the atmosphere more, and it was incredible.
On Sunday, we were under a little bit of pressure, especially in the second half so I couldn’t take it in too much. We couldn’t really get out of [our] own half, especially with 10 men. We ran out of ideas. I was clearing the ball as close to [the] touchline as I could, hoping it would go out and even though it was a throw-in for them, it gave us some time to catch a breath. The guys were just too tired from running, a lot of running.
Q: Was there any talk before the game of playing for a tie?
A: We wanted to get something from the game. Almost anybody who goes to Man U is happy coming away with a point. Especially a clean sheet. It’s an unbelievable result. On Thursday, our manager, Steve Coppell, said we were going to be going with man marking. Guys were like going to be running all over the place. It’s a testament to the diligence of the team and our willingness to try. But if I had let a goal in the first minute it all goes out [the] window. Stuck with it, the guys did a great job.
We were so tired and when we did get a chance to go forward, even Ronaldo chased [Nicky] Shorey all the way down into his own box. We were hoping that maybe someone would be a little lazy and not chase back. But what really impressed me was that Man U has a lot of guys who are willing to defend. They have so many world-class players, but they are all willing to defend also.
Q: Before the game, I saw some stories saying you might not play. Then while watching the game, the announcers mentioned your hand injury. When and how did it happen?
A: I hurt it on May 13, in the last game of the season against Blackburn. There was a low cross and I went to win the ball. I had my ball with my hand on top of it and I got caught just right by Nonda. I was pretty unlucky because the injury was to my middle and ring fingers. Pretty nasty. I’ve got a real good buddy at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic, Randy Viola, who told me to have the X-rays emailed to him. He said it was the worst break on a right hand they’ve ever seen. He wanted to know when I could get to Colorado.
Q: So, the injury kind of ruled you out of playing for the U.S. national team in the Gold Cup and Copa América.
A: I talked to Bob [Bradley] and he said he planned to take Kasey [Keller] and Tim [Howard]. I was fine with that because I wanted to rest the hand and it meant I would have my first summer off in three years. I wanted to fish and play golf. But it was a good four weeks before I was really doing any fishing, and I was casting left-handed. It wasn’t easy. I took my boys out a few times and they can’t cast very well, either. But we had a good time floating down Yakima River [in Washington State], where I have a house.
Q: How much time did you have off?
A: Well, we started preseason training on June 26. I wasn’t sure if I would be ready for training. The hand just wasn’t healed up enough. I was training, but not catching balls. No one could take shots at me, the hand just wouldn’t take it. Still, I was able to do goalkeeper training, but instead of handling a shot, I just collapsed to the ground and came up ready for a throw. There was still a lot of work for me to do, because I really only was training for 10 days before the season. All preseason, no one expected me to be ready to play.
Q: So there you are at Old Trafford, and early in the game in comes Wayne Rooney on a breakaway.
A: That was the first chance: Rooney one-on-one. I had to stick my right hand out there unprotected. I cringed a bit, but it was O.K. I said to myself that my hands were still on so I must be alright, Bear in mind that in training the one thing I was worried about was another kick. I mean I have 16 pins and 2 plates in there.
Then in the second half there was a scramble in front of the goal and I dove on the ball and I got whacked by one of my own men. I grabbed the ball with both hands and luckily, he hit me in the left hand.
Those things happen all the time. I’m 35, I’ve been kicked all the time and nothing ever happened. But this injury was more critical because [I’m] a keeper and broke a hand. There were questions about me coming back, some people said it would be months because of the surgery.
Q: Then does it seem a little strange to you that later in the game Rooney gets stepped on and is now expected to be out for at least six weeks?
A: I didn’t really notice right away what happened. It didn’t look like anything at first. I thought he had rolled his ankle. I’m not sure what happened. He took off his boot and was limping. I just thought all sorts of things could have happened: he could have jammed his toe into the ground or gotten kicked. You don’t really, while playing, don’t have time to think [about] other players. You’ve got your job to focus on and that’s about it. He didn’t come out for the second half, I said to myself, ‘O.K., now I’m worried about whose coming in and their tendencies.’ I have to change what I’m doing. It wasn’t until after the game that I wondered what’s happen to Wayne. Some people don’t really care about guys on the other team, but I’ve been in England a really long time. I know Wayne [is] out of qualifying games. And now England is my second team, being here eight years, all my friends are English and I watch the games with them. You end up rooting for England and now I’m sure Wayne will be missed.
Q: At the start of last season, all the pundits in England had Reading tabbed to go right back down to the League Championship. But you guys did surprisingly well and finished in the middle of the table. Did that surprise you?
A: Yes, I think we did surprise ourselves. We all thought and believed we would stay up in the Premiership. That was our first goal. But to finish eighth, one point off a Euro spot puts you in a pretty remarkable crowd. I suppose we could have gotten another point the last game had I not got injured, but to finish so close to a Euro spot is truly amazing. Not too many teams have done better their first year in the top flight. You see some teams that have been around in Prem seven or eight years and still can’t get above 12th, that’s it. This is such a difficult league. You have to grind results out every week. Not [the] same as couple of years ago when we ran away with the Championship, when we could get a win when we needed it. Now we’re fighting for life to get nil-nil against Man U in a game where we only had something like two shots.
Q: How much better can you expect to do this season? Or is it again a matter of avoiding relegation?
A: The question is depth. And injuries to a squad the size of ours would kill us, that’s the bottom line. I think we spent like $2 million on players all summer. And look at Sunderland, they spent $25 to $30 million. We have not spent that much money, but we have a really good core that needs to be strengthened. We have to find the right players for our team, don’t want to bring someone in whose not going to fit in, we don’t want anyone to upset the dressing room, as they say over here.
Our goal is definitely the top 10 this season and maybe getting into Europe for next year, which would make the club even stronger. The problem is, for a club like ours without a lot of depth, all those extra games … I don’t know if they’re really wanted.
Q: What does the future hold for you?
A: I know nothing. I’m going to play as long as I’m having fun and can get out of bed every morning and train. As you get older, your body does slow down. After games, your body does get sore and then you can’t train as hard. It’s just a fact. You have to be able to tailor training sessions. Three or four years down the road is the next World Cup, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to train as hard for it. I’ve told Bob that I want to be a part of it. He knows I love going with team, I want to be there for the next one. It’s just how my body will feel. Wake up and body says ‘no,’ then you’re not training. If you can’t keep doing it at a high level it’s time to go. If you can’t train, you performance in games would suffer.
Q: There area always people in soccer who say that a goalkeeper’s best years are the mid-to-late 30s, even 40. Do you agree?
A: Last year, when I was 34, I played the best I’ve ever played in [the] Prem. I had more saves than anyone else and my team didn’t finish bottom, it finished eighth. Usually, the guy with the most saves is on a last-place team. I had the most saves and I was busy. Now I’m 35 and you can feel your body. I don’t know how much longer I’ll play, I don’t think anyone can say play they’re going to play until they’re 40. If there are no injuries and I’m still playing at 40, fine. It might reach a point whether I retire if my family wants to go back to the States for my kids schooling. How long can a body hold up? I love the game. I like training. I love shooting practice. And I just love talking trash during training.
Q: This is your seventh season at Reading. Do you plan to stick around beyond this season?
A: I have a contract through this season. I talked with my agent over the summer and he told me the club had called him and wanted to meet about a new deal. But, for whatever reason, they then said they didn’t want to do anything now. I’ve played 231 games for Reading and I’ve never said I wanted to do anything but stay at Reading. If, if they decide differently I’m willing to consider my options. What I’ll be doing next July, I don’t know. I might be sitting in my house on the Yakima River. I just hope to have something by then.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Q&A with Reading keeper Marcus Hahnemann...
From the NY Times new soccer blog: