Milan Badelj: Hamburg’s deep-lying playmaker

Almost unnoticed by the media, the Croatian Milan Badelj has turned out to be one of Frank Arnesen’s best buys during his time at HSV.

Rafael van der Vaart and the lovely Sylvie have grabbed the attention and the imagination of the press in Hamburg after the Dutchman’s return to the Red Shorts. The German football magazine 11 Freunde called van der Vaart Hamburg’s saviour-like, indicating that his return to the club turned the dire situation at the start of the season around.

Badelj may not have a Dutch accent, a wife who has been featured more often on German television than the Pope, or an outgoing media friendly personality. Arriving on August 29th for the relatively small price tag of 4 million € attached, the former Dinamo Zagreb player joined a club which was  descending into chaos at the time. Club legend Uwe Seeler had openly criticised the leadership’s transfer policy, subtly suggesting that a change at the top may be something that club should consider.

Given Seeler’s and the media’s criticism the van der Vaart transfer was probably just what the doctor had ordered on paper, but one shouldn’t disregard the quality Badelj has brought to the northerns starting line up.

Reading the game

Badelj and van der Vaart were in fact the missing pieces to the puzzle Frank Arnesen and Thorsten Fink hadn’t solved at the beginning of the season. Whilst the Dutchman provides a threat on top, combined with a great work ethic, Badelj has managed to slip into the role of the deep-lying playmaker rather effortlessly allowing the likes of van der Vaart and young attackers Heung-Min Son and Artjoms Rudnevs to shine on top.

The Croatian’s long passing game is amongst the best in the Bundesliga. A total of 87 long passes, or an average of 5.4 passes per match, have reached their intended target. Badelj makes 52.1 passes and one key pass per match on average. Furthermore, his ability to keep hold of the ball often times allows Badelj to escape his opponents. Badelj has managed to successfully complete 33 dribbles so far this season.

Milan Badelj's passing has been excellent so far this season.
Milan Badelj’s passing has been excellent so far this season.

The midfielder has also been a vital player in defense for the Red Shorts. According to WhoScored’s stats Badelj has so far this season made 58 tackles and 47 interceptions in his 16 matches for HSV. The former Dinamo player has only made 2 defensive errors so far this season according to squawka.com.

Future prospects

Getting back into a European competition in the near future is Frank Arnesen’s and Thorsten Fink’s goal. Hamburg are currently only 2 points behind 5th placed Freiburg. Given the tumultuous start to the season, HSV’s current place in the table reflects a strong upturn, as Hamburg’s chairman Carl Edgar Jarchow himself pointed out at the end of the Hinrunde.

Badelj himself shares the club’s ambitions, stating upon his arrival:

HSV are clearly a club that should be at the top of the table. The club is amongst the 6-8 teams behind Bayern and Dortmund fighting for a place in an international competition.

The Croat’s good form have allowed Hamburg’s fans to once again dream about a European finish, and potentially given Thorsten Fink and Frank Arnesen the best present there is in Hamburg: A (somewhat) quiet winter break.

Stats taken from WhoScored.com and squawka.com.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-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 and on the @AufstiegPod.

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