Last Wednesday, about 400 Hamburg fans march to the club’s training ground as a demonstration of support for the beleaguered squad who had lost five games in a row, a run that saw the club descend to second from bottom of the Bundesliga. Hamburg have never been relegated from the first division and they were founder members when the league was formed in 1963.
After that show of solidarity from the fans, a new wave of optimism briefly engulfed the club ahead of last Saturday’s game at home to Hertha Berlin. After the game the crowd assembled outside the stadium for an altogether different reason after watching the team lose 3-0, their sixth straight defeat which is a club record. The players were obliged to apologise to the fans who demanded that the coach, Bert van Marwijk be sacked.
If van Marwijk does go then his replacement will be the third coach this season. You have to be in a pretty dark place to find it necessary to take such a drastic step and you don’t need to be especially wise to know that most of Hamburg’s problems are not of the current coach’s making. This is a club that sacked their coach, Bruno Labbadia in 2010 in between legs of the Europa League semi-final in which they were to host the subsequent final. A string of coaches and sporting directors have led to the mess that they are in and van Marwijk is the latest coach to arrive at the Imtech Arena and seemingly completely misjudge the situation.
Van Marwijk looked at the Hamburg squad and saw names like Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Maximilian Beister and Rafael van der Vaart, and decided to focus on outscoring the opposition rather than tightening up the defense. This approach was probably based on the perception that the club had too many good players to go down. That perception would be wrong and HSV are in it up to their neck.
So what is to be done? Well, In the short term they could stick with van Marwijk and hope for the best. Alternatively, they could bite the bullet, pay the former Dutch international coach off and hire some other poor schmuck and hope for the best. Either way, with the transfer window now closed and with the club reported to be close to €100, they are left hoping for the best. Current media reports suggest that former player and coach Felix Magath is set to replace van Marwijk.
Magath has enjoyed proper success with Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg but is a notorious disciplinarian. His methods work, sometimes spectacularly but he likes a transfer or five and it is said that he creates disharmony in the dressing room. One has to question if he will get the best out of HSV’s somewhat precocious talents, particularly van der Vaart who is very much his own man and is unlikely to respond to traditional motivational methods.
When Hannover were forced to change coaches twice during a season in 2010, they hired Mirko Slomka who not only led the team to survival in the Bundesliga but oversaw one of the club’s most successful periods. Unfortunately, he couldn’t maintain the momentum and was sacked late last year. If Hamburg do indeed sack their current coach, they could do far worse in my opinion than hire Slomka.
In the longer term, plans are underway to separate the football club from the sports club which will allow them to become a business and attract significant investment, specifically from local billionaire, Klaus-Michael Kuehne who has been writing cheques for HSV for some years now. It will also allow them to assemble a board with more direct sporting experience rather than the somewhat internecine group who are currently in charge and of whom, many fans feel, are ultimately responsible for the club’s situation.
In the Imtech Arena there is timer that counts up to the second the number of years that Hamburg have spent in the first division. It is impossible to gauge what the effect relegation would have on a club that goes to so much trouble to remind themselves and others of their status as a Bundesliga club. Their longevity has earned them the nickname of “Dinosaur”. Well, if you’ll forgive the metaphor, this dinosaur is in danger of being pulverised by an Asteroid.