Will this be another season of mediocrity at the always-transitional Hambuerger SV? Not necessarily. With the first matchday of the new Bundesliga season less than 24 hours away, London based Bundesliga fan Jonathan Lines takes a closer look at tomorrow’s featured side, Hamburg, and gives his prognosis for the upcoming season. Follow Jonathan @JonathanLines1
Mass Exodus and Transfers
It has been a summer of ins and outs, mostly outs, for Hamburger SV, the biggest club from Germany’s second-largest city. With no fewer than thirteen departures from Die Hanseaten, there is no question that a full and dramatic restructure of the club is underway. But an immediate worry is how short on depth and quality the team will be this season. It has been five years since Hamburg finished in the top three, and, in short, nobody will be expecting much from them this time around either.
Among those to have left the club include a host of experienced first team players, as well as some already on the fringes. Dutch duo Ruud van Nistelrooy and Joris Mathijsen have joined Malaga, while other important departures include winger Piotr Trochowski (joining Sevilla on a free transfer), midfielders Jonathan Pitropia (Stade Rennais, €3.5m) and Zé Roberto (Al Gharafa, free), and goalkeeper Frank Rost (New York RB, free). Alex Silva, Collin Benjamin and Jean-Eric Choupo Moting are among the former fringe players who will not be seen at the Imtech Arena this season.
While some deadwood has been cast off after a disappointing end to the last campaign, particularly at the back, the scale of the departures will be of concern to fans, with relatively few players brought into the club in replacement. Importantly, this summer of transition is also sporting director Frank Arnesen’s first transfer window at the club after joining back in February. With the appointment of Arnesen, it would appear that HSV are looking to develop young talent, possibly to inject some energy which has been largely missing from their performances, certainly last season. The Dane is one of football’s most reputable youth scouts, and HSV will be looking to use their own academy, alongside his scouting experience, to bring through their next team.
Arnesen’s fingerprints can already be found all over the club’s transfers with four young players recruited from his former club Chelsea, where he was the chief talent scout. Two of these are also HSV’s two biggest summer transfers to date, €2.5 million man Michael Mancienne becoming the first Englishman at Die Rothosen since club-legend Kevin Keegan more than 30 years ago. Mancienne, nicknamed “The Machine”, is best known for his versatility, and is able to play at right- back, centre-back and as a holding midfielder. The 23-year-old may not yet have lived up to the promise he showed a few years ago, struggling somewhat at this summer’s European Under 21 Championships, but the player understands the importance of this move. In an interview with the Hamburger Morgenpost, Mancienne revealed he was excited about the ‘great adventure’ of playing for a club like Hamburg, particularly in front of their 50,000 fans, and also citing the influence of Arnesen in his making the switch.
The second Chelsea youngster to sign is midfielder Gökhan Töre for a fee of €1.3 million. On face value, this seems a smart piece of business from Arnesen and Hamburg, with the Turk highly rated at Stamford Bridge. Admittedly the next few years are in mind with the signing of this 19-year-old, but it could be a breakthrough year for the attacking midfielder. The 19-year-old Italian midfielder Jacopo Sala has also joined from the London club, but the fourth, and arguably most important signing is that of central or left-sided defender Jeffrey Bruma on a season loan. The Dutchman, also 19, is tipped for a big future at Chelsea, having greatly impressed for the reserves and when called into first-team action, and could be an important player for the Bundesliga outfit. In fact, the only non-Chelsea player to join Hamburg this summer is Norwegian international midfielder Per Skjelbred who will join up with the team just in time for their opener against champions Borussia Dortmund.
With Arnesen describing big transfers this summer as ‘out of the question’, despite the numerous departures from the club, signings like Töre and particularly Bruma could add some much needed quality at good value. The defense was a huge problem area for HSV last season, shipping 52 goals, which was among the worst defensive records in the Bundesliga. Bruma and Mancienne will look to bolster this area of the team and with five defenders having already been released they will join captain Heiko Westermann and Dennis Aogo, one of Hamburg’s best players last season, in a reasonably solid-looking backline for this season.
Going forward, the goals of prolific striker Mladen Petric will be important to the team again (particularly if the defensive weaknesses are not fully resolved), although the player has been linked with a move to the English Premier League this summer. Behind him, young attacker Son Heung-Min has great potential. After an excellent pre-season, it looks likely the 19-year-old South Korean will be seeing some first team football this campaign, and might just get one or two people talking about him.
It will also be important, with the arrival of Arnesen and a focus on young talent, to have a settled coach. Die Rothosen have been impatient and unforgiving with their coaches of late, with five changes at the top in the past three years. Michael Oenning, the current man at the helm, has come in for some strong criticism during his tenure, and hopefully he will not be judged too harshly if this season is another somewhat stagnant one for his club.
Accompanying the appointment of Arnesen is a complete restructuring of Hamburg’s football philosophy. A unified style of play has been introduced implemented throughout all youth levels akin to the famed La Masia academy of Barcelona in hopes of optimizing youth development and creating a prepared assembly line of talent for the first team.
Focusing on youth has been a hallmark feature of Bundesliga sides in recent years, and although Hamburg may be a little late to this particular party, there is some great potential in their ranks. That said, it would be too soon to expect big things from all of the young players this season. It is clear that the restructuring of the club will extend well beyond this year, but with a bit of luck, and if things fall into place for them, the Hanseaten might be able to challenge for Europe. But success has been in short supply at the club of late, a tide which does not look likely to turn this season. And with a few injuries to key players, the relatively shallow squad depth will be of concern. Nobody will be expecting much from Hamburg this season, but they have the potential to cause a surprise or two.
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