Hamburg still aiming high

Mediocrity still not an option for the red shorts.

Almost 24 years have passed since Ernst Happel left the northerners to go back home to Austria. The chain-smoking media shy man is by far the most successful coach Hamburg have had after the second world war. During his 6 year reign at the club Hamburg won the German championship twice, the DFB Pokal once, and most importantly, the European Cup.

Ernst Happel is still a legend in Hamburg.

Ever since the moody Austrian left the club expectations at the club remained at a consistently high level. Fans and the local media alike constantly demand that the club plays at the top of the Bundesliga season in and season out. Most coaches have therefore quickly found out that being in charge of The Red Shorts isn’t a picnic to say the least. 21 one different coaches have sat on Hamburg’s bench since Happel left, 16 of them were hired to coach the team on a permanent basis. A coach lasts 1.5 years on average in Hamburg. One could say that ever since the Austrian left the team, his successors have suffered from a curse that was put in place by his successful stint at the club: The Happel curse, if you will.

Needless to say, these changes haven’t brough any sort of continuity to the club. The only titles of significance Hamburg have won after Happel left them is the 2003 German indoor football championship and the UEFA-Intertoto-Cup in 2005 and 2007.

Longing for titles

Frank Arnesen was brought to the club at the beginning of the season to help Hamburg live up to those high expectations. The new sporting directors first move was to re-model the squad entirely, a new generation of young and exciting players was brought in the Hamburg the entire city has been longing for since Happel. Arnesen is well aware of the pressure he is facing at the moment. During the annual general meeting of the club’s members on Sunday the Dane stated that ”a team like the HSV should play in Europe every season.” President Carl Jarchow told the club members that the ”team needs to win a cup in the not too distant future.”

Big words from the two men who are currently working for a team that is 13th in the Bundesliga table. Both men are very much willing to change the climate at Hamburg though. Former board members Bernd Hoffmann and Katja Kraus left 1.7 million euros in contract and obligations that weren’t accounted for in the Hamburg budget and a 4.87 million euros deficit after leaving the club, but both of them were honorably discharged by the members meeting on Sunday. Head of the board Ernst-Otto Rieckhoff had lobbied different fan groups to make this possible, in order to keep the cool in and around the club. The board seems to be determined to run the club as smoothly as possible, avoiding any sort of in-house fighting.

Arnesen (l) and Fink (r) have a tough task ahead of them if they want to achieve success at Hamburg.

Fink delighting the fans

Thorsten Fink has been in charge of the team for the last part of the Hinrunde, and already managed to stabilize the defense, and his brand of attacking football is hitting all the right notes at Hamburg so far. In this week’s kicker the coach is delighting the fans even more, by stating:

”Mediocrity can’t be the demand of Hamburg”.

Furthermore, Fink says that he is used to ”having my team play in Europe”, and that he is aiming to reach Europe’s finest competition with his side:

”In two or three years we should aim at qualifying for the Champions League.”

Fink’s comments in this week’s kicker are music to the ears of the Hamburg faithful. However, it has to be stated that many coaches have tried to reach the stars with Hamburg, only to fail in the end. Fink certainly has a tough road ahead of him and he already seems to know that demands will keep growing week after week.  The question then becomes, can he escape the Happel Curse?

Feel free to leave a comment below.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 32-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.


  1. Good read, Niklas! Of course I hope for “more” each and every single season but I haven’t felt this optimistic about HSV in recent years. Yes, it may still be early on in the Arnesen/Fink era but I have a feeling both of them are here to stay. Possibly even if they fail to achieve results immediatedly. They both are immensely popular with club dignataries and fans alike. If there is no panicking (which is always a possibility) we should see a steady upward trend in the next years!

    (And yes, please let us become “the predominant club in the North” again!)

  2. Agreed. I think that Hamburg have enormous potential, and they could become the predominant team from the north of Germany once again.

  3. I’m pretty sure HSV will finally create positive headlines next season. I think Fink has a certain aura/presence that makes him unsackable. He will bring consistency to the club and I think 2012 will be a key year for Hamburg… after several years I finally see light at the end of the tunnel for Hamburg. If they don’t screw it up somehow their next 2-5 years should be remembered as “the better years”.

  4. Are you dissatisfied with Drobny’s performance? I think he’s played quite well as the season has progressed.

  5. Thanks for the comment.

    Agreed on Beister, he’s been absolutely amazing for Fortuna this season.

    I do believe that things look brighter now than they have in a long long time for this team. Problem is, all this could turn into chaos within seconds in a city and a club like Hamburg. I think that this team has a lot of potential, and reaching Europe next season should be within the reach of a team like HSV.

  6. Thanks for the kind words!

    You don’t support my home town team in Norway, Viking Stavanger, by any chance? Would explain their miserable failures in the recent past!

  7. I really hope Fink will turn HSV to a top club, the fans deserve it, the bundesliga needs them on top. Lets hope Rene Adler comes in the summer, and Arnesen find some more cheap talent like Töre.

    Maxi Beisler is coming for the next season, and he will be a great player no doubt! HSV has to take some talent from Bundesliga1 or 2, not taking reserve team players from Premier League. Germany Spain and Brazil has the best pool of talent in the world, and they are pretty cheap to!

  8. Excellent piece. Longing for HSV to be ‘big’ again. All a bit like Spurs to be painfully honest. Other European teams are hoping that I don’t start liking them too.

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