The large clock inside the Volksparkstadion has ticked away over seasons past, tempting fate by highlighting how long Hamburger SV have swerved the Bundesliga trap door, right down to the exact second.
Hamburg have been living out their own groundhog day for the previous four seasons, desperately clinging to their top division status at the very last opportunity.
Every season that they have achieved safety has been met with a surge of financial funding and hope for more progress in the following campaign. However, this has not been achieved and now their worst nightmare has become a reality.
The target of European football and silverware, confidently outlined by Dietmar Beiersdorfer upon his return to the club as director in 2014, has become a distant thought that is painfully naïve within hindsight for Die Rothosen’sloyal fan base.
Covered by a large cloud of smoke, courtesy of the large group of ultras venting their anger in the north stand, the timer that has proudly watched over the stadium has now become a gimmick to opposition fans after relegation on the final day of the season.
Upon defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in the second last game of the season, the result that took survival out of Hamburg’s own hands was met by a fake clock in the Frankfurt home end that simply had zero time on display. It was a sore awakening for the 6,000 – strong Hamburg travelling support.
Hamburg needed already relegated FC Koln to defeat Wolfsburg and for Hamburg to do the business against Borussia Monchengladbach on the final day of the season. Although they ran out 2-1 winners, Wolfsburg sealed Hamburg’s exit with a 4-1 victory.
Since the Bundesliga was formed in 1963, Hamburg have proudly held onto the fact that they are the only team to take part in every single season. The glory days of the late 1970s and 1980s have given way to a barren spell. It seems an eternity ago that Hamburg could boast of Ballon d’Or winning Kevin Keegan amongst their ranks; the man who helped them to their first title in 1979.
However, to say that relegation has not been on the not so distant horizon for Hamburg is simply not true. The club has been on the brink of self-implosion for a considerable time.
Matters were not helped by businessman owner Klaus-Michael Kuhne saying: “Economically speaking, Hamburg is the worst investment decision of my life”.
Kuhne has mercilessly pumped money into Hamburg in a bid to pull away from their unwanted familiarity with the bottom half of the table. Moreover, the city of Hamburg has invested extensively in its infrastructure and tourist appeal in recent years. Unfortunately, there will be no Bundesliga team to go alongside this.
Hamburg appear to clash against the German blueprint when it comes to running a football club. Efficiency, sustainability and long-term planning are traditionally core pillars of success within German football. Hamburg though have suffered at the hands of an expensive wage bill that inhibits their ability to sign and sell players.
Emulating the Chelsea-Roman Abramovich formula of continuous managerial change, this season alone has played host to three managers in an attempt to prevent the familiar relegation freefall. The former two managers, Markus Gisdol and Bernd Hollerbach, would exit the club with a significant portion of the blame mounted on their backs. Not taking responsibility has become a running theme, rampant throughout the club hierarchy and players. It is convenient to blame the person who has just lost their job.
Gisdol, upon keeping Hamburg up at the end of the 2016/17 season, was expected to be given time to develop the squad and provide stability. This was not to be the case when results didn’t go Hamburg’s way at the start of the new campaign and he was sacked in January of this year. Hollerbach’s tenure would last less than three months as he was unable to achieve a single win.
A transfer policy that has targeted older players such as Johan Djourou and Pierre-Michelle Lasogga has stumped the natural process of youth development and proven expensively unsuccessful. After impressing as a 17-year-old on his debut, Jonathan Tah was sent on loan as he was judged to be too inexperienced. After returning from his loan spell, he was eventually sold to Bayer Leverkusen and is now one of the hottest commodities in German football. Whoever sanctioned that transfer was certainly guilty of gross negligence.
While securing the signature of Kerem Demirbay on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund in 2014 was a shrewd piece of business for a change; the process by which he was eventually sold to Hoffenheim was not so business savvy. Demirbay has benefited greatly from the tutelage of young mastermind Julian Nagelsmann to establish himself as a top midfielder that is plying his trade in the Champions League.
If Hamburg are to achieve an instant promotion next season, their youth players must be given game time and the backwards transfer dealings need to meet an abrupt end.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for Hamburg. Suspecting relegation to be inevitable a few months before the end of the season allowed the club to begin preparation. Their new manager, Christian Titz, ended the season on a positive note, recording four wins from seven games. This good run of form is expected to see him remain in charge of the club next season and provide an opportunity for stability at one of Germany’s most prestigious of clubs.
As for the timer, it will be reset as Hamburg aim to make their way back to the top flight for the first time in their history.
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