For a stretch of years in the mid-aughts, I argued that relegation to the 2. Bundesliga would be the BEST thing that could happen to Hamburger SV. Though it would mean an end to long-standing tradition of the stadium clock counting the seconds of continuous Bundesliga presence, it would force club leadership to really address the issues that had the HSV frequently flirting with disaster.
I was wrong.
It seemed obvious to me that the HSV, upon dropping to the second division, would stop throwing money and new trainers at the basket of problems you could broadly label as ¨underachievement.¨ The lowered revenue streams would necessitate a smarter, holistic approach to team-building. The club would be forced to reorganize around younger players, which would seen an investment in a long-term strategy which would then help the HSV eventually leverage the resources that come with their size and tradition to return to prominence in the Bundesliga, regularly fighting for European spots and maybe even breathing life into their rivalry with Bayern as a true threat to the kingdom.
And I am sure there is no shortage of HSV supporters who laughed at me then and are now saying, ¨Told ya!¨
I assure you there is no joy in their having been right, either.
For two consecutive years, the HSV has done all that it can to show the 2. Bundesliga that they had the fiscal might to challenge at the top of the table. They will be doing it again next season, of course, thanks to a late-season floundering that allowed 1. FC Heidenheim to sneak into the relegation playoff slot.
Ironically, Heidenheim would be a fine example to anyone at HSV interested in trying something new. Unfortunately, the only outcome I could see of the HSV leadership observing what FCH has done would be to try to buy Frank Schmidt to replace Dieter Hecking. Maybe find one of Heidenheimś stronger role players to throw money at and then force him into a starring role, preferably one with an injury history, as the HSV seems to prefer players who tend to miss matches.
For whatever reason, the failures and struggles tend to bring only personnel changes, but the philosophy stays the same: ¨We are a big club and we can prove it.¨
Even as the club tries to pry Manuel Schäffler from Wehen to bolster their attack, there are indications that the financial pinch from the coronavirus, the end of sponsorship deals, and investor reluctance may finally force the HSV into a new approach.
Despite not reaching promotion, there was talk of bringing Dieter Hecking back for the coming season, even if just for the sake of stopping the revolving door policy on the trainer’s office. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, only one HSV coach has been in role for more than 60 matches. Since his 68-match run on the Hamburg bench Thorsten Fink has collected trophies in the Swiss and Japanese top leagues.
Hecking’s contract would have been automatically extended had Hamburg made it to the first division.After the deal expired last week, sporting director Jonas Boldt had said publicly that a new deal was a possibility, only for the club to announce late in the week that it would look for a new touchline boss. While there is no shortage of results-based reasons to separate from Hecking, it is at least possible that the salary demands of a trainer like Hecking might be more than what the club is willing or able to commit to heading into another second-division season.
Hecking’s presumed successor is Dimitrios Grammozis, who is coming off a strong season with SV Darmstadt 98. Only league champion Arminia Bielefeld took more points in the Rückrunde than Darmstadt’s 32. Grammozis and Darmstadt had announced mid-season that they had been unable to agree to an extension of his deal, making him immediately available for the HSV right now.
And with just 47 matches under his belt as a trainer in the professional ranks, he is certain to be coming in at a lower salary than Hecking, who has hundreds of first-division matches and a DFB Cup at the top of his curriculum vitae.
Whether it’s Grammozis or someone else leading the HSV into the 2020-21 season, it’ll still be down to the players to execute. By all appearances, Hecking had more than enough firepower in the squad to achieve the big goal put before him. The fact that the club was in the top three for all but three matchdays during the season would indicate as much. Whether the new trainer will have access to the same talent levels remains to be seen.
Several significant contributors (Joel Pohjanpalo, Adrian Fein, Jordan Beyer, and Martin Harnik) were on loan for the season. Will the club again pursue loan deals to fill-out the roster in favor of promoting youth players? Is the pursuit of Schäffler an indication that the checkbook remains open, even without any obvious assets to sell at a profit?
Whether they finally realize the need for an overhaul in philosophy or the money evaporates to the point where they have no other choice, the HSV remain a club in need of a spiritual rebirth, lest they continue to struggle near the top of the second division as the financial realities of modern football push any return to European glory further and further out of reach.