The Hamburg derby of Friday, 30th October 2020 was surely the weirdest Hamburg derby to date. Not only was it played in front of just 1,000 spectators, for obvious reasons, but both teams came out of their 2-2 draw with reason to feel good about themselves.
Neither Hamburger SV nor FC St. Pauli have seen much stability or success in recent years, so why are both of Hamburg’s big clubs looking good as we pass into November?
Last year, HSV were one of the favourites to secure promotion. For the second year in a row, they ended up outside the playoff spot in fourth, despite spending most of the season in the top three. Many felt that with an experienced coach like Dieter Hecking, HSV wouldn’t be so prone to collapse as they had been under Christian Titz and Hannes Wolf in their first 2. Bundesliga season. That wasn’t the case – already down in third when the league was stopped, Hecking’s team consistently lost points thanks to late goals, and they were beaten 5-1 at home by SV Sandhausen on the final day, a new low for the club.
And so, the former European champions decided to head in a new direction. Out went Hecking, and in came Daniel Thioune, who had led Osnabrück to the 3. Liga title in 2018/19 and kept them up with a 13th place finish in 19/20.
Thioune was a trailblazer, becoming the first black German to coach a team in Germany’s professional leagues, and was an inspirational figure at Osnabrück’s quaint Bremer Brücke stadium. Even when he was still coaching Osnabrück, Thioune already made friends with HSV fans with his defence of Bakery Jatta when other clubs questioned the Gambian’s identity, and he was given the Football Quote of the Year award for it too.
Thioune was joined by a host of new signings, including goalkeeper Sven Ulreich from Bayern, Osnabrück’s Moritz Heyer and Hoffenheim’s Amadou Onana. Most importantly, Simon Terodde, who has scored more 2. Bundesliga goals than anyone else and won the title in both his last two seasons at this level, joined from Köln. Predictably, he made an immediate impact. Scoring a brace in both of his first two league games, Terodde has already managed eight goals – nobody else in the league has more than four. Crucially, Terodde knows how to bail the team out when confidence is low.
HSV haven’t yet lost in the league, but the embarrassing 4-1 cup defeat to Dresden was a result that would have devastated HSV teams of the past and caused a significant downturn in form. This time, they did not collapse, and put that result behind them by starting the league season with five wins from five. The team’s resilience is a welcome change, and Terodde is a key part of it.
When HSV inexplicably threw away a 2-0 lead at Paderborn, it was Terodde who brough HSV back level before Aaron Hunt’s penalty secured the win. When they were losing 1-0 to Würzburg at half-time, Terodde got another brace to put them in front. And when St. Pauli took the lead late on in the derby, it was Terodde who scored just a minute later to make it 2-2.
On paper, a draw may seem a disappointing result for the Rothosen, yet that draw leaves them with 16 points, after six games, having won their first five. The last time HSV started a season better than that was before the Bundesliga was even founded, in the 1962/63 Oberliga Nord, where they won their first seven matches. Having lost both derbies last season, a 2-2 draw doesn’t seem so bad, anyway.
There are many more challenges to come for Thioune and his team, and there are still doubts over how long his good start will last, especially after Osnabrück seriously struggled in the rückrunde last year. But the early signs are positive, and if given the time and support they needs, it feels like Thioune, Terodde and the rest can make a lasting impact.
FC St. Pauli
In contrast to HSV, St. Pauli were expected by many to struggle when the 19/20 season began, and they were proved right. Veteran Dutch coach Jos Luhukay only won one away game all season with the cult club (although it was the Hamburg derby), and dropped off at the end, scoring only nine points from their nine post-lockdown matches, falling to 14th, just two points clear of the relegation playoff spot. Much to the relief of St. Pauli fans, Jos the Boss was let go. Timo Schultz, a former player who had been part of the coaching staff, was named as his replacement.
With no previous experience as a head coach, Schultz was a gamble, which meant expectations were low heading into the new campaign. Several important players also departed, including forwards Henk Veerman, Viktor Gyökeres & Dimitrios Diamantakos, derby heroes Leo Østigard & Matt Penney, and fan favourites Jan-Philipp Kalla & Waldemar Sobota.
Perhaps surprisingly, Schultz’s start has been quietly impressive. Schultz’s side have actually picked up less points than they did in the first six games last season under Luhukay and went out of the DFB-Pokal too. But the atmosphere around the Millerntor is much improved. Gone is Luhukay’s baffling squad selection, where he seemed to pick a new reserve player to debut each week. Gone are his press conference complaints about whichever player he wanted to blame for the latest lacklustre performance. And gone is his overly cautious style of play – with 12 league goals, only HSV have scored more than St. Pauli in the first six games of this season.
Watching St. Pauli is no longer a chore, as it so often was last year. The importance of a manager “knowing the club” is often overestimated but having seen Luhukay alienate favourites like Diamantakos and distance himself from Kalla’s retirement celebrations, appointing Schutz made perfect sense, and the club’s identity is benefitting from it.
Schultz has been helped by solid recruitment. The star so far has been Rodrigo Zalazar, on loan from Frankfurt, who has already scored three goals – including a superb shot from distance in the derby. Daniel Kofi-Kyereh & Maximilian Dittgen joined from Wiesbaden, with both starting well in brown and white, and Guido Burgstaller & the giant Simon Makienok also joined to bolster the attack. Whether Schultz has what it takes to lead St. Pauli forward as coach or whether he is simply the man to rebuild the rubble left by Luhukay remains to be seen, but the team has improved since the end of last season, and there are reasons to feel good again.
That goes for HSV too. There are no guarantees of future success for either side, but the signs are good, the football is good, and the teams might just be good too.