Wednesday, 18 September 2013

What is Hamburg’s problem?

With Torsten Fink leaving and the club starting another domestic season poorly will the sleeping giant of the Bundesliga ever be revived?

Last weekend Dortmund were awesome.  There’s no other word for it.  Some of the attacking lines their players ran would have any team struggling to cope with.  On counterattacks at times the player in possession had six or seven of his own players steaming past him.  But bloody hell were Hamburg awful.  And it’s just cost manager Torsten Fink his job.

This is something that Hamburg fans have had to live with in recent seasons and it shows no time of stopping anytime soon.  Fink has paid the price for succumbing to the disorganisation.  In that match alone they tried to line up as a 3-5-2 then 4-4-2 then 4-2-3-1.  It made no difference.  “The system was not to blame,” Fink said afterwards.  Tough to know which one he was referring to.  Five games into the season and with a team on four points might seem like sacking a manager too early.  In truth it was difficult to see where any improvement would come from.  With Hamburg as they are its hard to picture the next guy doing any different.

It’s the wasted potential that must grate.  Even with the mismanagement of the past decade or more Hamburg are still the fourth biggest in terms of revenue in Germany.  They’re the only Bundesliga team to have never been relegated.  For a while in the late seventies and early eighties they were one of the biggest clubs in Europe.  They won a European Cup and got to sign Kevin Keegan.  They should be one of their league’s leading lights.  Instead they’re its biggest disappointments.  They haven’t won the league since 1983.  Haven’t really challenged since finishing runner up in 1987 either.  They have the other underachieving Bundesliga teams beaten.  Stuggart won a Bundesliga in 2008.  At least Schalke and Leverkausen can comfort themselves with the Champions League.  When it comes to letting their fans down Hamburg can’t be beaten.

It’s not like they haven’t tried.  Fink’s is just the latest in a long line of false dawns.  Before that it was Frank Arnsen as a high profile sporting director and a new focus on youth.  Which would have been fine if it had been the right youth.  As a broad experiment in running a club like it was a game of Football Manager (buying boatloads of promising young players with good stats and throwing them in the team) it could be judged a success.  By any other measure it was a failure.  Six months after Arnsen left they’ve been left with nothing to show for his era but Michael Mancienne.

What grated with Hamburger fans the most about Arnsen’s expensive recruitment of young mainly foreign players was that it took place in an era when Bundesliga sides were increasingly developing their own.  Hamburg look like they have been thoroughly left behind.  In the current team there’s only Jansen, Adler and Westermann are established German players and not one came up through Hamburg’s youth system.  The stunning first goal scored by youth team graduate Lam Zhi Gin against Dortmund may be the way forward.  Arnsen used to give interviews asking for more time for his young players to settle in and bring success.  Dortmund themselves were always the example he gave of a team that did this.  They were of course lower when almost out of business in 2008 than Hamburg are now.  Emulating them and their successful integration of talented young players is easier said than done.

Van der Vaart’s return after stopping off at Real Madrid and Tottenham hasn’t had the desired effect either.  Now captain, he’s shown his best form only in patches.  Helping to repeat the third place finish of his first stay looks impossible.  Last season their form fluctuated wildly and they ended up finishing a disappointing 7th in a tight league.  Bluntly, Van der Vaart is no longer the player he once was and influencing games on his own looks beyond him.  Outside of him Hamburg have a squad filled with decent players (Jansen, Adler, Rincon, Jiracek, Westermann, Badelj) with no real stardust.  There aren’t many players already there that you’d be comfortable building a team around.

Truth be told this season already looked like being written off before the events of this weekend.  The start they’ve had wasn’t so much disastrous as uninspiring (the 1-5 home loss to Hoffenheim aside).  At this point the club have been managed so poorly that they’ve got no hope of turning around without someone starting again from the ground up.  With their next game against a newly confident Weder Bremen team in the Nordderby they’ll want a new manager in as quickly as possible.  With the club in the state they’re in its difficult to know who’ll want the job.  It needs someone to come in and start again with enough energy to see the project through.  It might be worth them seeing if Jurgen Klopp’s available.

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