From Here on Fink – Hamburg’s Hinrunde in Review

 

The pain and heartbreak of HSV fans in recent years (maybe decades) is surely unique in the Bundesliga. No question, there have always been clubs that were in considerably worse situations but nobody suffers as publicly, stubbornly and – some might say – as beautifully as the HSV fan. The first half of the 2011/2012 season has unsuprisingly been yet another emotional roller coaster ride for HSV supporters.

From the devastating 3-1 defeat against Dortmund to the first home win of the season against Hoffenheim in November, the “Hinrunde” provided supporters with plenty to swear and complain about, as well as – typical for Hamburg – occasional glimpses of what could be, thus installing a sense of hope in fans, that regularly keeps them from going around the bend faced with the obvious gap between Hamburg’s form in recent years and where HSV supporters feel their team rightfully belongs.

Michael Oenning's face said it all.

Armin Veh’s and Michael Oenning’s respective reigns as Hamburg manager, as short as they were – again typical for Hamburg – still hang heavily over the hanseatic city and will be chapters in HSV’s history that most likely only Bremen and St. Pauli fans will look back fondly on. To be fair, nobody (except, naturally, HSV fans) really had big expectations at the beginning of the season. Looking back, there wasn’t much to get excited about. In fact there were a lot of reasons for drowning yourself in sorrows. The 2010/2011 season had ended quite chaotically. Not only had manager Armin Veh been given the boot on March 13th and Frank Arnesen been brought in as new sporting director around the same time but chairman Bernd Hoffmann was also ousted in spring and replaced by Carl-Edgar Jarchow. In the wake of these events a number of club officials resigned and there was no shortage of typical Hamburg drama, reportedly especially behind the scenes. The re-shuffling of club dignitaries and technical staff – then assistant coach Michael Oenning became manager after Veh’s exit – led to a summer break filled with uncertainty and – again, this is Hamburg – big expectations.

Frank Arnesen, who many had placed their hopes on when it was announced in February that we would become the new sporting director, brought in a number of players from his former club Chelsea that few in the Bundesliga (or any other league really) had ever heard of. The naturally paranoid HSV supporter immediately smelled a disaster in the making and to say most supporters were confused by the signings and loan agreements of the likes of Töre, Mancienne, and Bruma is an understatement. Even former Germany keeper Jens Lehmann accused Arnesen of “only knowing Chelsea players”. Between the arrival of many new unknown players and the departure of a couple of old favourites, such as Rost, Zé Roberto, and van Nistelrooy, many did not know what to make of this new HSV team.

When the season then started with a 3-1 loss to defending champions Dortmund in a match in which HSV players often seemed more like extras than participants, some fans started ringing the alarm bells. Others, who thought it might be too early to start panicking and that one could be excused for losing away to the defending champions, quickly joined the panicking pack as HSV failed to win a single one of their first eight games, while losing seven. If the results weren’t awful enough (3-4 against Cologne, 5-0 against Bayern and 2-0 against Bremen), it was mainly the manner in which Hamburg was playing that had many asking for Oenning’s head. While most of the blame was (unfairly) put on the defence, the whole team seemed disorganized, lazy, and completely void of creativity in midfield and going forward. At one point every set-piece by the opposing team caused supporters to break out in cold sweats and frantically send quick prayers to the football gods.

Finally it became only a question of when Oenning would get sacked.  The debate over who should become his successor was happily picked up the media and fans everywhere. A couple of words about Oenning: It is hard to say where exactly he went wrong but it was evident that something had to change. He was the HSV manager with the lowest winning percentage ever (a meager 13.3%) and often displayed a certain complacency and resignation, that didn’t seem to sit well with the dignitaries, the fans, and most importantly, the team. Saying that Bayern and Dortmund were “simply playing in another league” is only one example of his statements, that regardless of the truth content, didn’t necessarily help a team looking for its form and confidence.

Arnesen (l) and Fink (r) have been a blessing for Hamburg.

Eventually the often outrageous discussions about Oenning’s successor came to an end, when it was announced on October 13th that FC Basel manager and ex-Bayern player Thorsten Fink would take over the reigns at Hamburg. Fink, who left his old team mid-Champions League campaign, made sure – right from the beginning – to establish himself as the Anti-Oenning. Full of (boundless) optimism, confidence and wit, Hamburg supporters and media alike were a bit wary at first, but quickly fell in love with the man with the “Bayern-gene”. Things on the pitch also started to look brighter almost immediately. His more fast-paced attacking style of football, although still too often vulnerable at the back, seemed to suit the players a lot better than previous systems. A number of players, such as Drobny, Diekmeier and Bruma, were able to turn around their form dramatically and almost every single player showed some signs of improvement, be it form- or mentality-wise. This change also translates into numbers: Under Fink Hamburg has yet to lose in the league, having won two and drawing six. And while the number of draws is somewhat worrying, you feel that the team is close to turning a corner.

Make no mistake though; overall the “Hinrunde” still was a big disappointment for Hamburg. Currently in 13th place, the distance to the European spots is nearly as great as the distance to the bottom of the table. Having won only two of nine home games and having scored only 21 goals (as few as last placed Freiburg), there is plenty to improve on. Something HSV supporters everywhere should keep in mind as well: the start of the “Rückrunde” almost couldn’t be any harder, with matches against four of the Top 5 teams coming up in the first six match days. So buckle up!

"More of that please!" HSV players celebrating their first home win of the season after defeating Hoffenheim 2:0

Nevertheless there are also some positive things. First of all, the duo of Arnesen/Fink is already turning out to be successful in a lot of ways. Arnesen, first heavily criticized for his summer signings, now enjoys a degree of trust with Hamburg fans and dignitaries alike, that hopefully will install some calm and stability in the club for coming years. Even Jens Lehmann finally came around: “Good thing Arnesen knew Töre and that besides him hardly anybody knew Töre, otherwise he wouldn’t have joined Hamburg.” (Somewhere in there is a compliment!) The hype surrounding Thorsten Fink is even bigger. While we have yet to see what he can really do with this team, his confidence and optimism was exactly what Hamburg needed. Oenning would have never said something like: “We have yet to play a team that is better than us this season.” It seems that Fink is truly getting the best out of many players. The winter camp in Marbella (Spain) should have given him a little more time to make the team understand his system and philosophy even better. The two best players so far were without a doubt Töre, who might be one of the biggest discoveries of this season, and Drobny, who after struggling initially has made heroic save after heroic save since Fink took over.

Much in the “Rückrunde” will depend on the ability of the team to produce quality chances from midfield, where Hamburg is still massively lacking creativity. The defense, although already in much better form, will also have a lot to prove. It would be vain to expect any quantum leaps in quality but HSV still has enough potential to secure a comfortable mid-table spot and who knows, maybe even more. With a potential summer signing of FC Basel starlet Granit Xhaka and Maximilian Beister, who has had a break-out season in the 2nd division playing for Fortuna Düsseldorf, returning, Hamburg could indeed position themselves in a good spot to really attack the top of the table in 2012/2013. Of course it could all also go horribly wrong….but let’s stick with that Fink optimism for now and keep the beautiful suffering to a minimum.

Feel free to leave a comment below.

8 Comments

  1. Thanks, Peter! I remember my reaction to that Oenning quote like it was yesterday. I might have spilled a drink or two. Really sums up his coaching style at Hamburg perfectly! And yes, I will also settle for a nice mid-table finish. A drama-free season would be a good season this time around!

  2. Oenning should have been let go when he told his team to watch out for Klose before the Bayern match. Fink has HSV playing much, much better. I thought they were a lock for relegation, but if they can survive the brutal start to the second half of the season (includes Dortmund, Bayern, Moenchengladbach and Bremen in the first six games), they should finish midtable. And I’ll take that after the horrible start. Nice job Isabell!

  3. Thanks! I completely agree. HSV is mid-way on the route to becoming a new better, younger team. Let’s just hope club officials will be patient and not start to panic if things don’t turn out much improved right away. These things need time!

  4. I disagreed with letting RvB and Ze Roberto go like that but it was necessary to the rebuilding of the team. Fink may turn out to be Hamburg’s best transfer in years.

  5. The Hinrunde completed the changing of the guard which was needed at HSV. The new generation of players were brought in and blooded. The interim manager (Oenning) was dispatched with the actual manager having been brought in. A system has been started to be implemented. Mid table would be a good result for HSV this year, with the (eternal) hope of more in the Fall 2012.
    Good article.

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