HSV – A club searching for the right formula

Most HSV fans are probably happy that 2014 finally came to an end. Within the calendar year, their team took the fewest points of all Bundesliga sides, were led by three different head coaches, and survived a dramatic relegation play-off scare it easily could have lost. Furthermore, sporting director Oliver Kreutzer was let go, and, adding some fiscal burden at year’s end, investor Klaus-Michael Kühne decided his loan to HSV wouldn’t be turned into club shares that Kühne could acquire. HSV will instead have to pay back 25 million Euros to their sugar daddy.

So far, so bad.

The problems on the pitch this season have been numerous. Pierre-Michel Lasogga and the other players in the attacking line-up haven’t been as effective as club officials would have hoped. Nine goals from 17 matches is a truly dreadful return; only Tasmania Berlin in 1965-65 and Eintracht Frankfurt in 1988-89 scored fewer goals within the first 17 matches of a season. Lasogga himself has been one of the biggest disappointments after signing a permantent deal to avoid a return to Hertha BSC. Two goals from 16 matches is far and away below what was expected. When being asked about the team performance in attack, team captain Raffael van der Vaart told the press:

“Nine goals, that shouldn’t be possible. But, somehow we managed to pull that off.”

On the bright side, coach Joe Zinnbauer has managed to stabilise a defence which shipped goals right, left, and centre last season (14 goals conceded in as many matches). The lack of creativity going forward, though comes despite new signings like Lewis Holtby, Nicolai Müller, and Julian Green all lacking the impact Dietmar Beiersdorfer was hoping they would bring with them. A dire chance conversion rate of 6.2% informs the poor goal-production.

Less trouble off the pitch

In the past, HSV was known to be good for a scandal roughly every 14 days. The new team around CEO Dietmar Beiersdorfer has managed to keep a bit more calm during than one would have expected given how poorly the team has done so far. These days things have been so quiet that Bild has resorted to reporting about which boots the players are wearing, instead of presenting a new juicy headline every week about internal fights within the club.

The other big story of the week has been Lasogga shooting back at critics of his fitness, stating that he is not overweigh. One doesn’t have to go back further than a year to see more tumultuous unrest in a similar situation.

Money, money, money; it’s a poor man’s HSV

The re-structuring process at the top, which started by establishing a limited liability company for the professional division (which allows rich investors to buy shares and become part-owners) of the club and the hanging of club leadership, were also impacting the squad at the start of the season. Dietmar Beiersdorfer spent 6 million Euros more than HSV took in on the transfer market, getting rid of several players brought in by his predecessors Oliver Kreutzer and Frank Arnesen.

Despite several high-profile signings this summer, things have not gone as well on the pitch as one would have hoped. Beiersdorfer and the board are looking again to strengthen their squad in the transfer window. Kühne’s decision on his loan, in addition to having to negotiate a new loan agreement for the new youth campus and with Imtech Arena, has left precious little money in HSV coffers.

Furthermore, the club revealed this week that their search for investors in their new concept hasn’t gone as well as expected. HSV continue to chase rich men with deep pockets, but to no avail so far. As if that wasn’t enough of a burden to carry, the club’s sponsorship deal with Emirates elapses at the end of the season, with an extension of the deal far from certain.

Several high wage earners who don’t play a big role on the pitch remain on HSV books. A staggering total of twelve contracts expire at the end of the season. If the club want to sign new players, they must rid themselves of a couple of players in this transfer window. Candidates to leave the club during the winter break are Ivo Ilicevic, Tolgay Arslan, and Gojko Kacar. Successfully jettisoning some players could make room to complete a rumored signing, such as that of former VfB Stuttgart player Zdravko Kuzmanović, currently at Inter.

Talents instead of stars

Head of the board Karl Gernandt told Bild this week that HSV are going to follow a new strategy in the next two transfer windows. The club are mostly looking to sign young players with upside instead of star power. Reducing the wage bill is certainly a priority at the moment, given how HSV are currently dishing out 46 million Euros per season for their current squad.

Some of the big earners will be gone at the end of the season. Marcell Jansen is set to leave, and whether the club will offer a contract extension to Raffael van der Vaart remains up in the air. Other players may have to take a pay cut if they want to stay, Heiko Westermann being the most prominent example within that group of players.

Joe Zinnbauer – The tough man in charge, but for how long?

How the Rückrunde plays out will be a huge factor for the Red Shorts moving forward. Given the special circumstances of the calendar year 2014, it may not come as surprise that the fans and media alike have been moderate in their criticism of the team. However, all the relative peace and quiet of the first half of the season may disappear if the team doesn’t find a way of getting out of the lower regions of the table fairly quickly. Right now, nobody is expecting an awful lot of HSV, but a mid-table finish should be possible for Zinnbauer’s team given the squad he has at his disposal.

The young coach himself was criticised by a number of pundits after the team had lost 3-1 against Augsburg, some of them going even as far as stating that the club was wrong to put their faith in the coach at all. Former World Cup-winner Thomas Berthold stated that the club should have given themselves the chance to evaluate their situation during the winter break before deciding whether or not they would like to have Zinnbauer in charge for the rest of the season.

The break gives the team and their coach have the chance to work out their attacking woes to help come back stronger for the Rückrunde. The coach is currently giving his players some tough love, asking them to start their first training session of the day at 7:30 in the morning. Whether such items help when the Bundesliga kicks off again at the end of the month stands to be seen.

One thing seems to be clear though:  should the Red Shorts fail to get off to a somewhat decent start to the Rückrunde, the discussions about Zinnbauer are going to again be raised, and at some point, the HSV board may have to face another tough decision.

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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.

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