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Hamburger SV makes hash of young season

The Guardian’s Rafael Honigstein opened up his Bundesliga blog this morning with his bleak analysis of a massive club that has picked up their season right where they left off: on the bottom.  After three matches, Hamburger SV sit at the foot of the German league table with just a point, and without having scored a single league goal.   If things continue like this, the Bundesliga’s only unrelegated team will finally fall through the trap door.

The stats against the northern side are not pretty: one point in their last eight matches, and not a single away win since October.  It looks like curtains for manager Mirko Slomka, who has lost 16 of his last 17 matches as boss of both Hamburg and Hannover. But despite the wholesale change, the same problems seem to remain.

Last season, Hamburg had the worst defence in the league.  The only difference from last year’s campaign is that they are not scoring.  The permanent signing of loanee Pierre-Michel Lasogga from Hertha Berlin was supposed to maintain momentum.  But the departure of problem child Hakan Calhanoglu may have brought more problems than it solved. To top that off, it was arguably a new defender who was responsible for Hannover’s two goals on Sunday.  Former Augsburg player Mattias Ostrzolek was in for leftback in place of Petr Jiráček, but missed his marker on both efforts.  By the hour mark, Ostrzolek was out and the Czech player back in.

It is almost impossible to understate how big a crisis this has become for Die Rothosen.  Hamburg are a massive club, and are consistently on Forbes Top 20 list.  But if you compare them to the side they once were, and to the other teams in their tax bracket, you see the long decline:

– Out of those top 20 “big teams”, Hamburg were the only side to finish in the bottom half of their domestic league table this season.   The next closest were AC Milan (who are going through their own prolonged decline) in 8th and Spurs in 7th.

– Hamburg have the third-longest span without a title (1983 – the same year they won the European Cup), being surpassed only by Schalke (1958) and again, Tottenham (1961).

– Hamburg’s best league finish over the last 10 seasons has been near the worst among the big clubs.  HSV finished 3rd in 2006; all other clubs — except, you guessed it, Tottenham! — have finished at least second. Thirteen of those teams have gone on to win their leagues at least once over the past decade.

– Only 10 of the Big 20 have a European Cup/CL title — Hamburg being one of them — but since HSV’s win in 1983 (and their automatic qualification the next year), they have only returned twice, dropping out in the group stages both times.  Compare that with this season, where only five big clubs did not at least make the third qualifying round.

– All of the other clubs have won at least one trophy, domestic or international, in the last seven years.  HSV’s last piece silverware was the DFB-Pokal in 1987 (as well as that year’s Supercup).

Clearly the team of Ernst Happel that won three league titles in five years, and dominated the European landscape, is long gone.  But with Bayern Munich and Borussia Monchengladbach up next for Der Dinosaurier, Slomka does not have the most ideal matches to try to integrate his new players and relive former glories.  Furthermore it remains to be seen if the 47-year-old is even the man for the job.  He may be gone by the end of September, but it may already be too little, too late.  By then, the top-flight existence of one of the biggest clubs on the planet will have gone the way of… well, you know.

Brent P. Lanthier

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