As the tears run out amongst Hertha fans and the soul-searching begins, the quest for the answer to the ‘Why’ question will begin. This relegation (Hertha’s seventh from the Bundesliga) has not been a sudden crash or a one-off event this season, but a decline that many neutrals on the outside could have seen coming. The Big-City club have hit the ground hard and the story of mismanagement that brought them here is harsh lesson to be learned.
The fact that the crash has finally happened this season should not cover up the fact that the club have been building towards this for a while. Bruno Labbadia saved them back in 2020, Pal Dardai did the same in 2021, while Felix Magath steered them through the relegation play-off last season. Die Alte Dame has been flailing around in the murky waters at the bottom of the Bundesliga table, while the management of the club metaphorically kept them there by pushing them under, rather than throwing them the rescue buoy.
For a club that has had the money thrown at it that Hertha has, to be relegated as the worst team in the league will have those teams with a far lesser budget inwardly smiling with self-satisfaction as they watch on. Hertha’s ambitions to be a Big City capital club to emulate London, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon et al was noble in intent, but wholly lacking in execution.
The whole Lars Windhorst investment story is one that beggars belief. When he purchased his stake in the club back in June 2019 the future of the club looked rosy. His overall investment of €374 million in players during his association should have provided the foundations for the ‘project’ to flourish, but it has floundered instead.
The first big transfer window in the winter of 2020 saw €77 million splurged on Lucas Tousart (€25 million), Krzysztof Piatek (€24 million), Matheus Cunha (€18 million) and Santiago Ascacibar (€10 million). Only Tousart remains, while massive wages are still being paid to Piatek and others who have since come and gone. Getting the correct coach and the correct players has never really seen much joined up thinking and sporting director Fredi Bobic ultimately paid the price being sacked in January.
Hertha President since 2008 Werner Gegenbauer was forced out by Windhorst following the relegation play-off season and after an unsavoury internal spying affair involving Israelis employed by Windhorst. The club seemed to be lurching from one crisis to another off the pitch, while performances on it continued to mirror the chaos at board/ management level.
Sandro Schwarz was the latest coach to be given the mammoth task of succeeding at Hertha and in the name of stability was given perhaps longer than he should have been to turn things around. Firing the coach is the go-to reaction these days, but it often does have a galvanising effect (see Bochum this season). Schwarz was steering the Hertha ship towards the proverbial iceberg while the band in the background played on. The decision to finally call-in Pal Dardai for his third spell came too late in the day. The Hertha squad is just not Bundesliga competitive with the tools at the coaches disposal just not good enough to achieve the required ‘Klassenerhalt‘.
Relegation has arrived at the end of a four-year spell, which has been a recipe of ‘how not to run a football club’. New President Kay Bernstein wants to return to the ‘Berlin Way’ and ditch the pithy slogans of the past with their overblown claims of impending glory.
Whether the sick patient can be cured quickly remains to be seen. Hamburger SV have found it extremely difficult to come back from their own relegation, but Hertha do have their new collaboration with 777 Partners, and a huge fan base on their side. It hurts now, but as they say, ‘no pain, no gain’, but the main task going forward for Hertha as they try to work through their trauma, is to learn the clear lessons from the last four years of folly. The fact that ‘smaller’ rivals Union are the major player in the German capital city and vying for Champions League football hast to be the motivation to turn things around.