November 18, 2017

2016-17 Season Preview: Reality Check Coming for Hertha Berlin?

Basics

full name: Hertha Berliner Sport Club von 1892 e.V.
nickname: Die Alte Dame (‘the old Lady’, just like Juventus)
gounded: 1892
colors: blue and white
primary rivals: 1. FC Union Berlin, Schalke 04, Hansa Rostock, and Energie Cottbus
fan friendship: Karsruher SC

Stadium

Olympiastadion Berlin – built for 1936 Olympic Games

Hertha Berlin in the famous Olympiastadion.

capacity: 75,000
2015-16 average attendance:  47,000 per match

Trophies

German Champions: 1930, 1931
2. Bundesliga Champion:  2013, 2011, 1990
DFB Ligapokal Champion: 2002, 2003
UEFA Intertoto Cup Winner: 1971, 1973, 1976, 1978, 2006

2014-15 Finishes

Bundesliga: 7th place (goal-differential: 0; 1.41 goals per game on 12.88 shots)
DFB Pokal: semifinal loss to BVB Dortmund

Top 2015-16 Scorers

Salomon Kalou: 14
Vedad Ibisevic: 10

Philosophy

If Bundesliga clubs had an IMDB rating, Hertha would get a 5.5 to 6.0 at most. Our games aren’t painful to watch, but you definitely wouldn’t recommend them to your friends.

Hertha Legend Pal Dardai’s system is based on two foundations. A) We are not gonna beat ourselves. And B) We are totally cool with a draw.

Dardai plays a pretty pragmatic brand of football and doesn’t like to take risks. Whether Hertha loses or wins often comes down to referee calls, set pieces, and shot conversion. If we get a lucky break, we win. If they get a lucky break, we lose. If nothing crazy happens, we’ll take the point and try again next week.

The Boss

 

Whether or not Pal Dardai will also be a Berlin coaching legend one day is unclear, but he is well-liked and respected among fans. But there is some trouble on the horizon, because Dardai has stripped captain Fabian Lustenberger (at Hertha since 2007) of his duties and given the armband to Vedad Ibisevic (came last summer).

Chance of being sacked: 20%

If the Hungarian can implement an offensive game that doesn’t take away our defensive stability (his strong suit), he will keep this job as long as he wants. But for two seasons in a row, Hertha was terrible in the final stretch. He is a club legend, which should buy him some time, but a couple of losses at the start of the season will put his job in jeopardy quicker than you may think. Never underestimate the cunning Berlin media, who will make every loss about “LustenbergerGATE”.

When last we saw them

 

Last season reminded me of the fairy tale “Hans im Glück” (“Hans in Luck”); in case you are not familiar with the Grimm’s Brother’s story, here’s an illustration:

Hans im GlueckBasically, Hans had a lump of gold in his hands and ended up with nothing, which was Hertha’s season in a nutshell.

During the Hinrunde, Berlin went 10-2-5; only Bayern and Dortmund were better. However, during the Rückrunde, Hertha fell off and put up a 4-6-7 record; only relegated teams Stuttgart and Hannover were worse. Collectively, these performances added up to seventh place and a shot at Europa League football. Quite a success in a vacuum, but a huge disappointment if we keep in mind that Hertha sat in third place as late as match day 29 before plummeting four spots in five games.

Psychologically, it was also a tough stretch for Hertha fans. From April to August, it was one gut-punch after another. Just like “Hans im Glück,” the Old Lady kept trading down. Third place (gold) turned into fourth (horse), then fifth (pig) became sixth (sheep) . . . oh and then BSC also got destroyed by Dortmund in DFB Pokal semifinal at home.

You can read an in-depth season review written in June here.

Hertha’s 2016/17 Europa League “Season” Review

Ibisevic makes it 1:0 in the First Leg.
Ibisevic makes it 1:0 in the first leg.

Hertha BSC, with a roster valued at 76 million Euro, drew Bröndby Copenhagen in the third qualification round of the Europa League. To get into the group stage, Hertha needed to take care of Bröndby and face another team after that.

The name Bröndby sounds familiar, but the Danish side has a 16 million Euro roster. To put that in perspective, Darmstadt – the “cheapest” team in the Bundesliga -can afford a roster worth 25 million.

However, the home leg was closer than Hertha supporters imagined. Hertha pulled off a 1:0, but looked shaky all night. You could see the preseason rust on every player. Bröndby could have easily scored two or three goals, but Hertha won without conceding an away goal.

What could go wrong in Denmark?

A week later Hans . . . er, Hertha . . . dropped the grindstone into the river:

The defense was horrible, and Kalou wasted two sitters. With all due respect, Hertha choked this one away; no other analysis is valid. Hertha had a lump of gold on their hands in April and ended up with nothing by August.

Outlook

Great!

The season hasn’t even started yet and Hertha supporters are already annoyed from the Brondby failure. In their DFB-Pokal 1st round match at Jahn Regensburg (3.Liga), Hertha needed penalties to advance, which didn’t create much positive preseason buzz either.

But here’s an encouraging piece of information: Those of you familiar with the “Hans im Glück” tale probably noticed that I didn’t mention the underlying message of that story.

Now I shall.

Once Hans lost everything, he realized that materialistic things weighed him down and that he’s better off without gold, horses, pigs, or grindstones. Hans just wanted to see his mom. Once he accomplished that, everything was just a sideshow.

Hertha’s 2015-16 goal was to stay in the top flight; anything else was a bonus. Missing out on Europa League games could actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

It’s a common theme in the Bundesliga: scrappy underdog catches lightning in a bottle and ends up in the European ranks at the end. It sounds like a dream come true, at least until the underdog must actually endure the grind of a Thursday-Sunday match rhythm, with trips to Israel, Azerbaijan, or Kazakhstan during the week. The extra minutes and miles add up quickly and can become a real disadvantage in day-to-day business.

In 2009-10, Hertha made the UEFA Cup group stage and advanced to the round of 32. Nobody in Berlin remembers that UEFA Cup run, but everybody remembers how Hertha finished dead last in the Bundesliga that year, nine points shy of 15th place.

There is no way to prove that Hertha would have stayed up without the UEFA Cup grind, but no one can seriously argue that ten additional matches spread across Europe helped Hertha in their relegation battle. But at least fans got to see their club killed (1-5 on aggregat) by a Benfica Lisbon side featuring stars like Angel Di Maria, Ramires, and David Luiz. Fun memories!

Angel di Maria gegen Hertha
Angel Di Maria putting Hertha in its place.

Like Hans, Hertha fans need to realize that avoiding relegation is our Champions League. Until they are secured, the getting of 40 points as quickly as possible should be the only topic.

The distraction of Europa League games could have weighed down Hertha because of a lack of the depth to handle both a serious European campaign and delivering 100% on the weekends. Hertha doesn’t belong there yet. The precious European slots belong to clubs like Borussia Mönchengladbach, who have been paying their dues for years.

You can’t cut corners in the Bundesliga. Hertha needs to stay in the top flight for ten years straight, then maybe talk Europe.

Transfer Action

Michael Preetz has signed just two players thus far: Brazilian prospect Allan (on loan from Liverpool) and Slovakian international Ondrej Duda.

Duda is expected to contribute right away. Unfortunately, Duda played some minutes for Legia Warsaw in 2016-17 UCL Qualifiers and therefore couldn’t help Hertha against Copenhagen. On the other hand, Duda’s cup-tied status might be the reason Hertha were able to sign him. Duda looks legit, but nobody knows how well he will handle the transition from Poland (the 22nd-best league in Europe according to UEFA’s coefficient) to Germany (second=best league). Robert Lewandowski had 18 goals and 8 assists in his final season in Poland’s Extraklasa and saw his production dropp to eleven points total in his Bundesliga debut season.

Enough talk about new signings though. In 2016, keeping your talent from going to England is actually way more important. “Mischa” Preetz deserves credit for holding on to our most-valuable pieces. Hertha fans will be relieved when Deadline Day is over with assets still in place.

We all know how the business works. John Anthony Brooks was on Schalke’s radar last winter and excelled at the Copa America Centenario for the United States. If Brooks is still in Berlin on September 1st, it will be a big relief.

When Hertha originally signed Valentin Stocker it seemed he would take Hertha to the promised land and then deliver a financial windfall when sold down the road. In 2014-15 you could see some flashes of brilliance. Stocker’s production was also alright (3 goals, 9 assists in 26 matches) for a Bundesliga freshman playing for a “defense-first” relegation candidate.

But the coach who signed him (Jos Luhukay) was axed, and new coach Dardai stopped using Stocker. In 2015-16, Dardai left the Swiss international off his match day roster eleven times. Yet, it’s not like Dardai didn’t give him a fair shot. Stocker earned 22 appearances, but produced just one goal and no assists in 830 minutes.

Some of Stocker’s old Basel buddies (Mohamed Salah, Elneny, Fabian Schär, Yann Sommer) made names for themselves in bigger leagues, while Stocker is on the brink of being a bust. His contract is up next summer and he’s shown no reason why Hertha should extend his deal.

Verdict

Tenth.

All in all, Hertha’s current roster is the ninth-most valuable in the league according to Transfermarkt.

As you can see, the money table correlates with the Bundesliga table almost exactly. Therefore it is highly unlikely that Hertha will finish higher than last year. It will be quite hard to stay in the top ten, if you look at the big picture.

Hamburg got a little extra money from an outside investor, and one has to assume that Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg will improve after both clubs had off years in 2016. Augsburg, Bremen, Cologne, and Mainz are in the same tax bracket as Hertha and will challenge the Old Lady. All those teams could finish ahead of Hertha, which would drop BSC to 14th. Throw RB Leipzig into the mix plus one “out of nowhere” team, and all of a sudden the drop zone is very close. The difference between 7th and 15th place often comes down to health and luck, since the Bundesliga doesn’t really have a “middle class” anymore. Three wins and you contend for Europe; three losses and you battle relegation. Hertha will be right in the middle of that spectrum.

Relegation and Europa League Qualification are equally conceivable scenarios. Wolfsburg GM Klaus Allofs often says, “The money table never lies.”

Let’s hope he’s right.

Song of the Season: “Die immer lacht” (She’s laughing all the time)

 

Fun story.

In 2004, Kerstin Ott wrote a song in honor of her sick friend. “Die immer Lacht” is a slow guitar-backed song about a woman who keeps a positive attitude no matter what.

The ballad was sampled by two house DJ’s and became a hit in Germany. Hertha fans started to sing along to it and realized that the lyrics describe Hertha, a lady who keeps smiling, extremely well.

Let’s hope we can all laugh together in May!

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1 Comment

  1. I don’t agree at all with your analysis of Hertha Berlin, plus at some points you seemed to be a Union fan in the badly way you talked about the old lady. Hertha Berlin dont need 10 years to deserve european place. Gladbach had bad seasons and sparked in 3 years and is now considered a top 4. Hertha Berlin will be in the top 6 this year believe me, Stocker will sign another year as he is happy at the club now and Pal Dardai already is a legend at this club the chances of him being sacked are as much as Hertha being relegated, about 5-10%. A lot has to go wrong with the team for him to be sacked. Plus, Hertha have proved to have a very in depth team, with Darida, Pekarik, Stocker and Duda missing on occasions, they have managed to win without important players. Plus no mention of Jarstein probably one of the best goalkeepers in the Bundesliga right now formwise is a joke. Rune Jarstein might get Goalkeeper of the Year award if everything goes well in the Rückrunde, which typically does not in the Oly.

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