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Exclusive: We speak to Forest Green’s Christian Doidge ahead of the National League play-off final

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Ahead of a potentially career defining match, in which the ultimate prize of the Football League is just an arm stretch away, few could be blamed for feeling nerves under the sense of the occasion.

Nonetheless, ahead of Sunday’s National League play-off final clash against Tranmere Rovers at Wembley, Forest Green striker Christian Doidge revealed the feeling of excitement that has swept the club’s training ground since Sunday’s semi-final victory over Dagenham and Redbridge.

“Everyone’s really, really excited. It’s a great opportunity for the club and us players.”

It was perhaps a bitter sweet moment last weekend, as Doidge scored the ultimately decisive goal against his former employers.

“Obviously I knew what a lot of their boys were about”, he said, when discussing the two legs against his former side, for whom he finished his final season as the club’s top scorer in League Two. “I still speak to them quite regularly and consider a lot of them as mates.

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With the second leg finely poised after a 1-1 draw at Victoria Road, it was the 26-year-old’s second-half strike at New Lane which opened the scoring of an eventual 2-0 outcome in the hosts’ favour, securing the club’s passage to Wembley for a second successive season. He continued:

“I worked under John Still towards the end of the season and took a real liking to him, so it was a difficult two games. But, it is business, and we managed to get the job done in the end, and luckily I was able to help by scoring a goal.”

This is of course, the second time Forest Green will travel to Wembley in as many seasons, having suffered play-off heartbreak at the hands of Grimsby Town in May 2016, a game that finished 3-1 thanks to an Omar Bogle double.

This clash against Grimsby was only Rovers’ manager, Mark Cooper’s, third game in charge, after his predecessor Ady Pennock was sacked just one week before the club’s play-off semi-final against Dover Athletic.

Following the disappointment that came with defeat in London, Doidge became one of Cooper’s first additions at the club as he sought to build a team capable of going one further ahead of the 2016/17 campaign.

Having decided to run down his contract at Dagenham, the Welshman made the move closer to home by joining the Cotswold club. However, having been born in Newport, his childhood roots were not the only pull factor when weighing up his future.

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Indeed, the ambitions held by Forest Green, despite being a relatively minuscule club based in the quaint town of Nailsworth, are clear for all to see. Unsurprisingly, this left a lasting impression on Doidge as he pondered his next move:

“I sat down with the manager Mark Cooper and he told me the vision for the club and the direction that they wanted to go in. It was going to be a real journey and definitely something I wanted to be a part of.

“The owner has got such great ambitions of where he wants the club to go. It’s an exciting time to play for Forest Green.”

Doidge has recorded a career-best goal scoring campaign in his debut season at The New Lane, with 26 goals in 43 league appearances, repaying the faith Mark Cooper showed in him when bringing him to the Cotswold outfit.

The 6’1″ striker has thrived under his new head coach, who has implemented a visually appealing style of play, built around possession football and passing opponents out of the match, similar to that which he instilled at Swindon Town during his two year tenure.

Praised by Cooper for his “pace, work-rate and attitude” upon his arrival, Doidge has slotted seamlessly into the manager’s game plan, proving he is not just an aerial threat, but also an astute finisher in front of goal:

“It’s definitely helped my game. Before I was at Forest Green I played for Dagenham, who were very route one. As a centre-forward all I seemed to have been doing was running down channels and flicking balls on for other people.

“It’s nice to play in a team who try and keep the ball and create opportunities for you, allowing me to show another side to my game; that I’m good on the floor as well as flicking balls on and running channels.

“When I dropped down into this league, I wanted to show everyone that I’m good in front of goal. I definitely wanted to make an impact. “

And make an impact, he has. On a personal level, this season has been a huge success for Doidge, who set himself a target of “20-plus goals” prior to joining Forest Green. “If I don’t score that many I’ll be very disappointed”, he told the club website as he put pen to paper in signing a two-year contract.

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He has since smashed this tally, becoming the division’s second-highest scorer in the process – only outdone by the remarkable achievements of Dover Athletic front man, Ricky Miller, who has recently signed for League One outfit Peterborough United.

However, in spite of his triumphs in front of goal over the last 10 months, Doidge explained it would all mean nothing if Rovers fail to win at Wembley against Tranmere on Sunday:

“I set that target at the beginning of the season and I’m really happy that I managed to reach it and score a couple more. It’s been a really good season for me so far, but it doesn’t really mean much unless we get promoted, as that’s what we set out to do.”

His impressive form throughout the campaign saw him collect no fewer than four awards at Rovers’ end of season presentation last month, as he was named Player of the Year by both his teammates and the club’s supporters. Meanwhile, he scooped the Top Goal Scorer accolade, as well as Goal of the Season.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the supporters’ award that filled the Welshman with most pride. He explained: “At the end of the day, the fans turn up home and away and all they want to see is real hard working people playing for their football club. I feel like, as a professional footballer, that’s the least you can do.

“I know fans pay a lot to come and watch us, and that’s why I always give 120% every single game. I know how much the clubs I’ve played for mean to the fans and that’s why it is always an honour to win those awards.”

Of course, Doidge is a player with Football League experience under his belt, having made 47 appearances in League Two during his two years spent with Dagenham. While many of his teammates are yet to experience life above Non-League, the Welshman knows exactly what to expect should Rovers achieve their aims on Sunday.

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“It’s a better league, with better players”, he said. “As a professional footballer you want to play as high as you can, so it’s really important that in that first year you don’t go straight back down. You want to ensure stability, while really enjoying the moment. There are not many players who are able to say that [they have played in the Football League], many spend a long time in the Conference.”

Looking ahead to the task in hand, Forest Green should approach their clash against Tranmere with confidence, knowing they are unbeaten against their adversaries this season. A 2-2 draw at home earlier in November was followed by a 1-0 victory on Merseyside in the closing weeks of the campaign.

However, after 46 domestic matches and a two-legged semi-final, Rovers’ promotion hopes now rest on a single afternoon at Wembley. With all to play for in London this weekend, past form is irrelevant. A place in the Football League will be granted to the team who performs best on the day, and Doidge is all too aware of this:

“It’s a blank slate. The two games were completely different. In the first we played really well, but only managed to get a draw. Then, at their place, we won 1-0 but we weren’t really at the races that day. It shows how different things can be in football, and it will be a blank slate on Sunday. It’s a one off game and the winner takes all.”

Slight nerves are expected ahead of Sunday’s potential career-shaping clash, the occasion of which will play on the mind of even the most confident of players. However, Doidge expressed his feeling of excitement to be stepping out at Wembley on the biggest stage of Non-League football:

“I’m going to feel confident, but there will be slight nerves. Anyone who doesn’t feel nervous must be a robot. It’s a big opportunity for us as players and for club. We’re playing at a ground that a lot of the boys have never played at. It’s a big stadium and there is a lot riding on a game. There will be nerves, but more excitement at the sense of opportunity.”

Forest Green Rovers are certainly an outfit not lacking in ambition, and Christian Doidge has been key to the Cotswold outfit’s promotion charge this campaign. His 26 goals thus far have helped to spearhead his side’s charge to the National League play-off final, and he will be confident of adding to his season tally against Tranmere on Sunday.

Should all go to plan, he will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in completing the club’s journey, and his subsequent return, to the Football League.

Chris is the founder of The Boot Room. He is a Swindon Town supporter, having lived in Wiltshire for most of his years. His work has also featured on Squawka, Bleacher Report and Eurosport.

Championship

Exclusive: Steve Morison raves about Millwall fans, discusses ‘difficult’ Leeds spell

The Welsh international spoke with pride when reflecting on Millwall’s most recent Championship campaign.

Jake Jackman

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Steve Morison
Photo: Getty Images

Millwall achieved an impressive 8th placed finish during their first season back in the Championship and were ultimately only three points off of a play-off place.

The Lions were one of the surprise packages of the 2017/18 Sky Bet Championship season and Neil Harris deserves a great deal of praise for the results that he has delivered at The Den.

One player who symbolises what the club represents is striker Steve Morison.

The 34-year-old has played over 200 matches for the Lions and will undoubtedly go down as a Millwall legend.

In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, the Welsh international spoke proudly about the recent campaign, praising the incredible team spirit as the reason behind the club’s success:

“We’ve got an incredibly tight-knit and committed squad of players who work hard both individually and collectively.

“Since he first took charge, the manager has implemented a way of playing which gets the best out of the players he has at his disposal and also, since the back end of last season, we’ve formed a great bond with the supporters.

“Each of those elements are important individually, but when you add them all together then it shouldn’t really be as big as surprise that we have surpassed expectation as it has been made out by some.”

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Although Millwall cannot compete with the finances of some of the bigger clubs in the second tier, they boast an ardent fan-base and they have found a set of players who have been successfully able to connect with those in the stands.

In the past, the supporters have been difficult to play in front of and some players have struggled to live up to expectation but that hasn’t been a problem for the current squad. Understandably, Morison was keen to emphasise the tremendous role that the supporters played throughout the campaign.

“They can be a tough crowd to play for when things are going against you but so long as you keep putting everything in to each performance, playing with passion and desire, then they will continue backing you.

“I’ve played at Millwall for a long time now all-in-all and I’m sure they respect my achievements and personality, as I do their honesty and love for the club.”

It is no surprise to hear Morison speak highly of the club’s supporters. After all, he has played more matches for Millwall than he has at any other club he has been with.

This is his third spell at The Den and he is a player that the supporters have formed a genuine connection with.

A no-nonsense centre-forward, who benefits from the atmosphere created by the fans, Morison doesn’t shirk a physical encounter, making him the perfect striker for the current squad.

“This really feels like home for me as a player. The club gave me my big chance when I first moved here, which was a platform to go on to play for my country and in the Premier League.

“Since that first spell I’ve been back twice, firstly on loan which wasn’t so successful for me or the club, and more recently since the gaffer took over.

“The style of play suits me and I suit the style of play, which is why I think my best performances have tended to come in a Millwall shirt.”

This season, Morison has shown no sign of slowing up, playing 44 of the Lions’ Championship matches and becoming one of the mainstays of the team under Neil Harris.

The 34-year-old only scored five times, but he was an important part of Millwall’s success. In addition to his goals, he contributed eight assists and was a handful every time he stepped out onto the pitch.

Over the course of the campaign he moved to within ten of 100 goals for the club.

(Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)

“Personal records and accolades are always nice to receive but if I’m not scoring and the team is winning then I’m far happier than I would be if it was the other way around.

“I’ve had some great memories of my time at Millwall and hope there is many more to come, including reaching that goal landmark which any player, no matter what club they play for, should be proud of.”

That would be a major landmark to reach and it is likely that he will be given more than a fair opportunity to get the goals required.

Naturally, Morison is right to speak about the team being more important than personal achievement, but there is a good chance that he can enjoy both at The Den.

It would be a great moment for him, as he has enjoyed his best years at the club and to reach 100 goals would be a fair representation of his contribution.

Morison will be remembered fondly by the Millwall supporters, but the current manager in the dugout is already legend at the club.

Neil Harris achieved a lot as a player and has had a similar impact since taking over as the number one at The Den.

His former team-mate speaks positively about his current boss and it is obvious that he sees him as havingd a bright future in management.

“The gaffer is one of those who knows how to get the best out of players both individually and, when all put together, as a team. He is very honest and up front and we regularly have lengthy chats about all sorts of things. He respects the opinions of his players, especially senior ones like myself.

“He knows this club so well – he’s a Millwall legend – but he was right when he said, after his appointment, that he wanted to be judged on his performance as a manager and not as the player he was.

“Since then we’ve been to Wembley twice, winning promotion once, and almost secured a Play-Off spot for a chance to get to the Premier League. Those achievements speak for themselves and ultimately say a lot about his quality as a manager and a person.”

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

There are times when a manager and club fit like a glove. Harris and Millwall are an example of that.

He played the majority of his career at The Den and is one of the players who, like Morison aims to, scored more than 100 goals for The Lions.

During his playing career, he learnt everything there was to know about the club and it isn’t a shock that it has allowed him to transition seamlessly into management.

Harris started as the boss of the Under-21s and is now emerging as one of the most exciting coaches in the country.

Millwall’s style of play is functional, but it has earned the club good results.

An 8th placed finish is a superb achievement and sees them finish above the likes of Leeds United, Norwich City and Sheffield Wednesday, all of whom were seen as teams that could challenge for promotion this season.

He may now be seen in a similar way to Harris, but Morison hasn’t been at Millwall for his entire career.

The Welsh international tested himself at a higher level with Norwich in the Premier League. Meanwhile, he also played for Leeds United, but failed to make an impact at Elland Road.

It didn’t work out for him in Yorkshire, but he doesn’t want to make excuses for his lack of impact.

“I’ve been fairly honest in my assessment of my time at Leeds in the past. It just didn’t work out anywhere near as well as I’d hoped or the club had hoped for me. It was a difficult time to be a player with the controversy and uncertainty in the background, which does have an impact on performances and results.

“But as an individual I don’t want to make excuses. I didn’t play as well as I would have liked and as I have done since.”

Although it didn’t work out for Morison at Leeds, he won’t finish his career looking back at the spell with regret. Ultimately, it led him back to Millwall and that is where he feels at home.

The atmosphere and playing style allow him to play to a high standard, despite approaching 35 years of age.

Although some would consider Morison to be nearing the end of his time as a player, he isn’t ready to call it a day just yet.

“So long as I feel fit and I’m contributing then I want to play as long as possible. You’re a long time retired as a footballer and I want to prolong my own career as much as is possible.

“I feel that I’ve contributed well again this season and am looking forward to coming back for training again at the end of June to get ready for another campaign. I don’t look too far forward.

“As a club we’ve got to ensure that this season and the success we’ve enjoyed becomes a platform for progression and even bigger and better things in 2018/19. That has to be our aim.”

There is a lot for Morison to achieve before hanging up his boots. The 100 goals will be on his mind, even if it isn’t his main priority. Also, he will want to continue to play a part in the progression of Millwall.

The Lions finished 8th this season and there will be a desire to go one step further and make the play-offs during the 2018/19 campaign. It would be an incredible achievement for the club to reach the top-flight, but the last 12 months show that it shouldn’t be considered impossible.

Morison still has a part to play and it is clear he has the hunger to deliver sustained progression at the club.

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Arsenal

Exclusive: Havard Nordtveit – Hoffenheim move, Julian Nagelsmann and facing Liverpool

The Norwegian international discussed his time at Hoffenheim and his experience of English clubs.

Mathew Coull

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Havard Nordtveit
Photo: Getty Images

This summer West Ham United utility man Havard Nordtveit called time on his career with the Hammers, after just one season.

Signed from Borussia Monchengladbach on a free transfer he suffered from the London outfits’ own struggles, the change of stadium and being asked to play out of position at right-back.

After just 21 games for the Hammers, he headed back to Germany, where he had such success previously.

Now, speaking exclusively to The Boot Room, the Norwegian international has discussed working under an exciting new manager, facing Liverpool in the Champions League and coming through the ranks at Arsenal.

Plenty of teams in Germany would have wanted Nordtveit this summer.

He built a fine reputation in the Bundesliga during his time with Gladbach.

In fact, just hours before his July transfer was announced, he was being linked with Bundesliga rivals Hamburg.

In the end, it was Hoffenheim who snapped up the Norwegian. They had just finished fourth in the Bundesliga and it was a brilliant move for the 27-year-old.

(Photo by Patrik Stollarz/Getty Images)

But, as the former Hammer explained from Germany, it has been a topsy-turvy season:

“It went well in the first couple of months. But then my games weren’t as good as I was hoping for,” he admitted. “Then obviously I was not good enough for the team. I have been training hard and lately, it has been back to normal again.

“It’s good to be back in Germany and also I needed half a season to get to know the new coach and the new system. I am looking forward to the rest of the campaign.”

Nordtveit started the season playing in the Hoffenheim back three, but found himself out of the squad entirely from mid-December until last month.

Despite his problems, he did not sulk and simply worked hard to get back into the first-team:

“I am not that person,” proclaimed the Norwegian international. “I have been in that situation before with West Ham and Gladbach. It’s all about giving everything you can instead of moaning.

“You have to be positive,” he continued. “This is a team sport. You have to give your best for the team. If that means you are playing or not you know that you will get the chance in the end.”

This season Hoffenheim and Nordtveit were challenging for the Europa League.

However, at the start of the campaign, the Bundesliga outfit were in Champions League action for the first time in their history.

They took on Premier League side Liverpool in the qualifying rounds, with Nordtveit playing in both games.

Liverpool were not yet working under Mohamed Salah power but still proved far too strong for their German opponents over two legs:

“We knew they were strong. With their attacking forwards they are brutal. We had a very good home game. But in the end, it is a little better a feeling to know we went out of the play-offs against a team that reached the finals,” Nordtveit explained, with a sense of vindication for his club’s exit.

“What Klopp has done with the club is massive and also Salah, at this time, maybe is Europe’s best player.”

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Hoffenheim’s entrance to the Champions League was masterminded by their brilliant young coach Julian Nagelsmann. The 30-year-old is just a few years older than the Norwegian but has proven himself a top manager:

“He is fantastic,” said an excited Nordtveit. “He has great experience and his own style of play. It is a lot of tactics for every new player. Also when I came in then there was a lot of new things I had to learn quite quick.

“I am now starting to see that I learn something in myself to get into the rhythm that he wants. He is like a young, bright, football professor.”

He then gave him high praise, by comparing him to his former Gladbach boss Lucien Favre:

“He reminds me a little bit of Lucien Favre. He thinks about football 24/7. Small details, always, which can mean we take the three points.

“If I could compare him with someone it would be Lucien Favre, which is not a bad comparison.”

Nagelsmann’s clear ability has seen him linked with taking over from Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

The Norwegian came through the ranks at Arsenal, but made it clear that he spent most of his time working with the current Arsenal assistant Steve Bould:

“I spoke with him of course but he was more observing the training. I was more with the reserve team.

“I was more with Steve Bould, the legend. He was quite important for me, a really good guy. I think he was one of the more important guys in Arsenal when I was there.”

Working under the Arsenal legend as a young defender must have been a big learning experience for the Hoffenheim player, who speaks highly of his time at Arsenal:

“I went quite early, about 16,17,” remembered the talented utility man. “It was perhaps the most important choice I did in my career because there I learnt how to do the basics in football.

“I did not play much with the first-team but the experience of training with the first-team and getting to know English football and a really high standard was really important to me.

(Photo by Nikolay Doychinov/Getty Images)

“From there, when I moved to Germany, I had the perfect base to have an OK career.

“Jack Wilshere was there before he finally broke through to the first-team. We had Wojciech Szczesny now second goalkeeper for Juventus. Many of the players are having big careers.  

“For me and a lot of the players we were quite lucky to have this opportunity.”

But Nordtveit still remembers his time fondly. He still follows the club, where good friend Granit Xhaka is also playing.

The Gunners have been unable to put a smile on the face of Nordtveit by picking up the Europa League trophy in Arsene Wenger’s final year.

However, with London outfit set to compete in the competition again next season, under a new manager, the two could well come face-to-face. 

That would be an opportunity Hoffenheim’s intrepid Norwegian would relish.

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Exclusives

Exclusive: Havard Nordtveit – A difficult West Ham spell under Slaven Bilic

The 27-year-old opened up on his difficult season-long spell at the Olympic Stadium.

Mathew Coull

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Havard Nordtveit
Photo: Getty Images

In the summer of 2016, Slaven Bilic looked to make improvements to his West Ham United first-team squad as the Hammers looked to press on after an impressive 2015-16 campaign.

One of the players that the Hammers boss decided to bring in was Norwegian international Havard Nordtveit.

West Ham beat off competition from several other clubs to snap up the utility man from German side Borussia Monchengladbach on a free transfer, following the expiry of his contract with the Bundesliga club.

The Norwegian has now spoken to The Boot Room exclusively about his time at West Ham, the Olympic Stadium and the Hammers’ fans.

It would be fair to say that Nordtveit’s season with West Ham may not have gone to plan. He played just 21 times for the club in 2016-17 and never quite achieved the form he had showcased in the Bundesliga with Gladbach.

But, despite his struggles, he insisted he was happy with his time at West Ham:

“It was perfect,” beamed the Norwegian. “I always dreamt to be in the Premier League. When I got the chance to go to England with West Ham it was an easy choice.

“Slaven (Bilic) was quite open that he wanted me. I had some good games and I had some bad games and it was a bit up and down. But all over I am really happy I took that choice. West Ham is a fantastic club.”

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Nordtveit simply never seemed to settle at West Ham. The Norwegian was perhaps a victim of his own versatility. With injury problems at right-back for Bilic the utility man was asked to play as a makeshift option on occasions for the Hammers:

“There (at West Ham) I played a little right-back. Slaven said he needed me because we had a lot of injuries. When the manager asked me, of course I tried my best.”

 

His inexperience in the position showed and it was tough for the Norwegian international, but he knuckled down and did a job for the club in a desperate situation.

In general, last season was a struggle for West Ham. An 11th place finish perhaps sugarcoated a mixed campaign in which they finished just five points ahead of Watford in 17th.

It was the first season West Ham played at the Olympic Stadium, leaving their beloved Boleyn Ground.

It has been a constant source of controversy since, with many West Ham fans unhappy with their new home.

Nordtveit never had the pleasure of playing at Upton Park. However, the importance of the old ground was never lost on the new recruit:

“I never played at Upton Park but what I heard was that the atmosphere there was amazing. What I got to know is that the fans were not that happy to change the stadium after such a long time and being such a traditional club.”

The move has certainly seen West Ham’s management of David Gold, David Sullivan and Karren Brady receive some hefty criticism since.

In March, it boiled over during a defeat to Burnley, when fans invaded the pitch and many hurled abuse and projectiles at the director box.

However, Nordtveit understands why the move went ahead:

“Everything is up to the chiefs at the club and they have a great deal on the Olympic Stadium, I am sure they only want the best for the club. So I think it is hard to say no to that.”

Speaking from Hoffenheim, where he is now back playing in the Bundesliga, the 27-year-old continued:

“I hope West Ham can get the same feeling at the Olympic Stadium as they did at Upton Park.”

The former West Ham man clearly enjoyed his time in London, even if his Premier League dream did not come true with the Hammers.

What is clear is that he understood the frustrations of the West Ham fans in what was an odd and difficult transition season in 2016-17.

For Nordtveit, that may have also been part of the problem regarding his ability to settle at the club.

Now, back in Germany, his career is still on the right track and he appears humbled by the experience of playing for such a traditional club.

The defender, who came through the youth ranks of Arsenal, is now playing regularly in Germany for Hoffenheim, who are chasing the Europa League places in the Bundesliga.

(Photo by Patrik Stollarz/Getty Images)

After previous success in Germany with Nurnberg and Gladbach, it seems that German football is what suits the Norwegian international best.

When it comes to a potential return to England, one day, it seems the West Ham experience was the end of his Premier League career:

“After it all, we made the conclusion that I fit better to the Bundesliga than I do the Premier League,” admitted the 27-year-old.

“I have now been in Germany for seven years, maybe more than that. I like it here. I like the stadiums, the atmosphere in the games, the way of play.

“How we’re playing now it is real entertainment.

“I can see in front of me that I spend my last years as a professional football player here in Germany before I go home and put my legs high up on the table.”

But it is not a dig at West Ham, more a reflection on his troubled season with the club.

“I always watch them (West Ham),” Nordtveit admitted. “I hope they can take some points now and get out the danger of going down.”

He will never go down as a West Ham great, but Nordtveit truly appreciated the chance to play for West Ham in his career.

No Hammers fans would begrudge him any success in the future, which looks set to be in Germany until he hangs up his boots.

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