Life has sure been tough in Sinsheim this season for those that vocally support the main local football club in the town. It’s not usually been that way though.
Since Hoffenheim’s promotion to the Bundesliga in 2008, the club has regularly, with the exception of the 2012/13 season, finished comfortably in the mid to upper table of the league and has been the place where many talents (mostly attacking) have shined and gone on to bigger and better things since their time at the club. Players like Demba Ba, Vedad Ibišević, and Roberto Firmino being some of the finest examples of successes in their attacking philosophy down the stretch of their Bundesliga stay. The club has comfortably been a mainstay in the league for almost a decade now and it’s seemed like only a matter of time before they climb into the European spots with relegation not remotely being a worry for the fans.
But not this year. Far from it, actually. With the league currently at winter break, Hoffenheim find themselves at the foot of it with just thirteen points amassed from seventeen games and only two wins all season to show for their efforts. They’ve even changed managers during this time but it’s not changed their fortunes. From being the side that finished in eighth, two points off European football, and almost reaching the last four of the DFB-Pokal last year, this season has been a stark contrast in comparison and it’s clear that so far they’ve struggled to reach those heights since the beginning of this campaign.
The summer saw Hoffenheim hit the jackpot by racking up nearly 57M in total of transfer revenue, the largest sum they’ve ever accumulated in a single transfer window in club history, with the sales of key players from the previous season like Firmino, Anthony Modeste, Andreas Beck, Afriyie Acquah, Sven Schipplock, and Salihovic making up the bulk of that income. This left Hoffenheim in a position with plenty of money to spend, but with lots of work to do in order to rebuild their squad around and strengthen up for the new season.
It initially seemed like they were doing a great job in doing so too with notable players like Swiss international and highly rated Fabian Schar joining from Basel, Chilean Copa America winner Eduardo Vargas coming in from Napoli, Jonathan Schmid, one of Freiburg’s standout performers in their ultimately disappointing campaign last year, highly touted Czech full-back Pavel Kaderabek fresh off a good U-21 Euro showing in the summer from Sparta Prague, and the experienced Kevin Kuranyi finally returning to Germany after a five year adventure in Russia coming on a free.
They also made their usual moves of taking full advantage of their scouting network in Brazil by snapping up another talent in the shape of Joelinton as well as bringing in one of the top scorers in Holland last season, Mark Uth of Heerenveen. There seemed to be plenty of reason to be hopeful ahead of the start of the campaign and looked to be money well re-invested, especially as they didn’t even spend half of their summer earnings to bring all of these players in.
But they never truly got going and looked far from the team everyone expected them to be after all that transfer business was done. A couple of unlucky late losses to start the season in defeats to Leverkusen, Bayern, and Bremen, as well as a cup exit to 2. BuLi side 1860 Munich, seemed just like a blip and a usual case of several new signings struggling to gel together too quickly but they never truly picked their form up anywhere near to what was expected of them. Vargas has yet to reproduce anything resembling his national team form with just one goal in 13 appearances so far, a similar story with Uth. Schar has struggled to get in the side with a few injury setbacks not helping his cause while Joelinton hasn’t gotten a chance to play all season for reasons not quite made public as of yet. Schmid and Kaderabek have been a fair bit more successful than the others who came in, but it’s not been enough to guide them back on track.
Nor was the sacking of Markus Gisdol in late October and the hiring of seasoned veteran and disciplinarian Huub Stevens. Hoffenheim have been amongst the worst defensive sides in the league in each of the last three seasons, but it usually escaped too much skepticism because they were so good on the attacking end. This year, they’ve improved a bit at the back in comparison to their closest rivals, but their offensive football is no longer as successful as once was the case with the team sharing the second worst goals scored record in the league alongside Darmstadt and Bremen.
So far, there haven’t been many things to get cheerful about and celebrate at Rhine-Neckar-Arena this season with the club languishing in the relegation zone and most of the new signings failing to live up to expectations up until now, but with half a season still in play, just a couple of points separating them from safety (while possessing a much better GD than their closest rivals), more than 30M euros still to spend from their summer earnings if necessary, and with a man in charge that has never suffered relegation in his 30-year managerial career, there still seems to be reason to remain optimistic even for the most doom-and-gloom football fanatics residing in the town of Sinsheim as Hoffenheim will look to avoid an end to a eight-season Bundesliga stay in the Ruckrunde which starts in less than two weeks’ time.
Photo by SASCHA SCHUERMANN/AFP/Getty Images
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