I’m normally quite lucky with the presents I receive at Christmas time, but one Secret Santa at Newcastle in 1998 got a little out of hand. We all opened our gifts after dinner and someone had bought me ‘Mein Kampf’, Adolf Hitler’s autobiography! It wasn’t even the worst at the table. Italian left-back Alessandro Pistone was slated for not having any heart at the club, and he got a pig’s heart in his Secret Santa. That was certainly borderline…
It was a bit of a culture shock coming from Germany where they have the winter break, to the Premier League in 1998 but I was well prepared. I always preferred to play than train, so Christmas suited me. It was an exciting time. You had a chance to pick up 10 or 12 points over the space of a week and you could build some serious momentum.
Although I enjoyed playing, it is certainly damaging England’s chances of winning a major tournament. In the early noughties I was one of the only German senior players in the Premier League and it really showed when we met up for the March internationals. The other lads were clearly more rested and refreshed than me. When you play at the highest level for 10 months straight year after year, you can’t expect to go to a major tournament and continue to perform. England will always suffer without a winter break.
Top of the tree at Christmas
Three points in the Merseyside derby is always important – but to snatch it in stoppage time will give the club a huge morale boost. Liverpool have to win these tight games and Sadio Mane’s goal could be a defining moment come May. They’ve dropped points against Bournemouth and West Ham, and if they want to stay in contention those are the games they need to be winning. Jurgen Klopp’s side need to learn how to win even when they’re not firing on all cylinders.
Liverpool are six points off the leaders Chelsea, but Antonio Conte’s men are certainly not uncatchable. Conte has tweaked his formation and since then they’ve been flying. You have to give them credit for the run they’re on as they’ve been fantastic. But they’re not the finished product, and they’re not unbeatable. Chelsea won’t win the next 11 games on the spin that’s for certain. If Liverpool can put a run together and stay within touching distance, they have a live chance as the season wears on.
Conte is a top class manager, and Chelsea are playing some of the best stuff in the league – but it’s certainly not a done deal. There will be plenty more surprises in 2017. Just hopefully no more pig hearts!
Winner winner, Christmas dinner
It was Christmas tradition with my family to have fondue on Christmas Eve as in Germany we celebrate on the 24th. That meant I didn’t need to worry about piling into turkey and stuffing the day before a game! Obviously you have to be careful what you eat, but if I wanted to tuck into Christmas dinner the day before a game I would do.
As an athlete you develop an understanding of your body, and you know your capabilities and your limits. I never paid much attention to a strict diet when I was playing, because I think some of the club diets are nonsense. The game has quickened since my playing days, but there were significantly less injuries back then. A little turkey dinner isn’t going to do any harm!