The beginning of each Bundesliga season is viewed with great optimism by the Hamburger SV faithful, with renewed hope that this would finally be the season in which the team will live up to its billing, as one of the most talented and balanced squads in the Bundesliga. For the last few years, Hamburg has been consistently touted to challenge for the title, and without fail, after the midseason break, mediocrity takes over and they just finish somewhere in the middle of the table.
The disappointment amongst the supporters is understandable but what one cannot fathom is the lack of grit in the team. Once they step out on the field, the team plays with no definite purpose, thereby giving the game a rather disheveled look. Relying only on flank play and with a midfield that can at best be called workmanlike, the team never is able to score enough goals, and this is their major handicap. For the team to improve in the coming season, the management has to direct its attention towards hiring a coach with a proper football ideology, and signing a creative midfielder, who can integrate play from the defense through to the offense.
For years now, the club has lacked a coach, competent enough to be able to impose a particular philosophy on their approach towards the game. This resulted in instinctive gameplay. The only managers, who can be beyond criticism are – Martin Jol and Huub Stevens. Under the former, the team was fairly successful, reaching the semifinals in both the UEFA cup and the DFB Pokal, losing to arch rivals – Werder Bremen, in both the competitions. Huub Stevens helped salvage a seemingly lost season in 2007. He eventually led the club to a respectable 8th place finish after flirting with relegation for major parts of the season. Next season he led the club to a 4th place finish, and also won them their last piece of silverware – the now-defunct Intertoto Cup.
Following Jol’s tenure, the team played with no particular objective or strategy, and hence the lack of consistency in the results was not surprising. Bruno Labbadia lost the dressing room halfway through the season, as the players lost faith in his managerial skills (or lack thereof). Nevertheless, it’s not difficult to comprehend that Armin Veh has been the worst coach in the history of the football club – leading them to demoralizing losses ala the six-goal rout suffered at the hands of Bayern Munich. It can be easily anticipated that the loss against Bayern Munich was the last straw and the club will definitely look to hire a coach, of proven pedigree, at the club level, for the coming season.
Focusing on the players, the club has a great mix of youth and experience, with young talents like Eljero Elia, Jonathan Pitroipa, Marcus Berg and Eric Choupo-Muoting playing alongside experienced players like David Jarolim, Ze Roberto and Ruud van Nistelrooy. The club has a very good youth academy that has seen the likes of Ben-Hatira, Jerome Boateng, Dennis Aogo and Choupo-Muoting come through to become first team members. However, it also has to be said that the players at the club have to embrace the responsibility thrust upon them and look to live up to their potential.
Elia has been compared to the legendary Dutch winger – Marc Overmars – for quite some time now. In the two years since his transfer to Hamburg from Twente, his market value has gone down quite a bit. In his first year, he looked every bit the player that he was said to be, going past defenders, demanding the ball, and setting up strikers for easy finishes. However, the previous season has been a huge disappointment in terms of his coming of age, as his play has been selfish, and he has been a tad slower than he used to be in his first year. Rumors of interest from big clubs across Europe have not helped either, and it is important that the club keeps hold of him, thereby building the team around him.
The club’s handling of talented players like Piotr Trochowski and Marcus Berg has not been praiseworthy. The former had a stellar 2008-09 and he was expected to be a breakout star in 2009-10. However, the last two years have seen him lose his first team place to Pitroipa, and his attitude has been questionable too. If his loss of form had been better handled by the coach, he could have remained a valuable asset to the team. Instead, this summer will see him switching allegiance to Sevilla, on a free transfer.
Jonathan Pitroipa, although a very good player, is not someone around whom you can build a team, as he plays with reckless abandon, and at times looks like a headless chicken, running around. Marcus Berg was brilliant for Sweden in the U-21 championships two summers back, and was snapped up by Hamburg in what was considered to be an astute piece of business. His inability to perform well in his first year, forced the club to rethink his purchase, and so he was sent away on loan to PSV. Hanburg should have persisted with him for some more time, as a complete pre-season with the team would have allowed him to adjust to the playing styles of the squad, and understand his role in the team better.
The presence of experienced players such as Heiko Westermann, Marcell Jansen and Mladen Petric lends a semblance of balance to the team, making it one of the most talented and deep squads in the Bundesliga. However, despite being endowed with some of the best young rosters, the team has continued to underperform in the last two seasons, placing serious doubts on the futures of many of the players involved.
Over the years, the club has also lost many of its prized young players to big spenders from across Europe. The likes of Vincent Kompany, Nigel de Jong and Jerome Boateng have all been poached by English moneybags – Manchester City. While Rafael van der Vaart left the club to join Real Madrid. Van der Vaart’s move to Real Madrid was not a surprise, but the other three moving to City was. When one moves from one of the top clubs of the Bundesliga to leagues such as England or Spain, you expect them to go to clubs with tradition that compete at highest echelon in Europe, and not to mid-table also-rans.
The fact that they sought to leave Hamburg to move to clubs of a similar level (with reference to City’s position two years back) is something that should make the club feel disappointed and angry. If the club does not work hard enough to keep its star players, and add to the squad judiciously at the same time, there will come a day soon enough when Hamburg will be referred to as a feeder club for big guns across Europe.
Looking towards the future, the appointment of Frank Arnesen as the Sporting Director seems to be a great decision and fans can only hope that he can identify players, who can take the club forward, like he did at PSV Eindhoven, at the beginning of his career (Ronaldo, Jaap Stam amongst others). As far as the coach is concerned, Hamburg legend – Felix Magath would be an ideal choice. The former German midfielder has the notoriety of being a very hard taskmaster, and usually focuses the team’s training towards team building, fitness and conditioning. These players need a rigorous regime to be on their toes and to perform consistently on the field. However, as he is committed to Wolfsburg, it would be more pragmatic for the club to make a move for Thomas Tuchel of Mainz. It is expected that his youthful exuberance and tactical awareness will aid the team well.
A couple of proven, experienced additions, along with the removal of deadwood, will make the squad more balanced, and add value and competition for places in the team. Finally, here’s hoping that the forthcoming season will be one that holds a lot of promise and success for the team, and will prove to be a welcome change for the Hamburger SV faithful.
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