Celebrating a Decade in the Bundesliga: TSG Hoffenheim

The matchday 34 win achieved over Borussia Dortmund produced Hoffenheim’s best-ever Bundesliga finish at the end of a decade of Bundesliga action for the Sinsheim club. From their surprise promotion in 2008 to the present, there have been plenty of highs as well as numerous lows. The Rhein-Neckar Arena has played host to some outstanding talent, but also seen its fair share of dross. Here at the Bundesliga Fanatic, we take a look back at 10 years of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in the German top flight.

New Kids on the Block

When the Dietmar Hopp/ SAP-backed Hoffenheim achieved promotion from the Regionalliga Süd in 2007 few expected them to make such an instant splash in the Zweite Liga. That Ralf Rangnick’s side finished as runners-up to Borussia Mönchengladbach to gain automatic promotion was seen as a fairy tale (albeit a fairy tale involving millions of Euros investment).

And like all fairy tales, there was a bad guy and he was German billionaire and software entrepreneur Hopp, who had bankrolled the club’s elevation from a rural club kicking around in the fifth tier of German football to a Bundesliga outfit in the space of eight years. There was much animosity towards Hoffenheim for going against the ‘traditional way’ much as RB Leipzig engendered the ire of German football fans.

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Their Bundesliga career kicked off with a 3-0 away win against Energie Cottbus with two goals from Vedad Ibisevic and one from Demba Ba. They more than held their own in the Hinrunde and amazingly topped the table going into the Winterpause courtesy of a superior goal difference to Bayern Munich.

They beat Borussia Dortmund 4-1 on matchday 5 and came close to taking a point off Bayern when they met on matchday 16. A late 92nd minute strike from Luca Toni prevented them a share of the spoils from their first meeting at the Allianz Arena.

Ultimately Bayern were pipped to the title by VfL Wolfsburg, but Hoffenheim more than held their own finishing a highly impressive seventh in their debut season. Vedad Ibisevic finished with 18 goals with Demba Ba just behind on 14. Carlos Eduardo, Luis Gustavo and Sejad Salihovic bossed the midfield with Marvin Compper a key man at the back. Remarkably all of Ibisevic’s goals came in the Hinrunde, before he was cruelly injured (tearing his anterior cruciate ligament) in a Winterpause friendly.

Hoffenheim’s fast attacking style with plenty of goals had impressed many and went someway to appease the critics. TSG 1899 Hoffenheim had arrived.

The Architect Departs

Following the highly impressive debut season Hopp invested further in the squad funding the acquisition of Maicosuel, Franco Zuculini, as well as experienced defender Josip Šimunić. Ambitions were also raised with European qualification the new season’s objective. However, after another promising start, they endured a torrid Rückrunde winning just four games and eventually finishing 11th. The honeymoon was over and for the first time criticism of coach Ralf Rangnick was heard.

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Things really came to end during the Winterpause of the 2010-11 season. When the club accepted a €17 million offer from Bayern Munich for key midfielder Luiz Gustavo, an incensed Rangnick promptly quit. His assistant Marco Pezzaiuoli was put in charge for the remainder of the season, but once again an 11th place finish was the end result and once again their lofty ambitions had not been met.

Holger Stanislawski, who’d impressed at St. Pauli was the man Hoffenheim turned to next, but once more after a promising start (four wins from the opening six matches), the rot set in and Hoffenheim’s away form in particular was a cause for concern losing five in a row at one point. When they crashed out of the DFB Pokal at the quarter-final stage to second tier spVgg Greuther Fürth, Stanislawski’s time was up and he was duly sacked.

Markus Babbel was parachuted in, but once again for the third season running Hoffenheim had to settle for an 11th place Bundesliga finish.

Down and Almost Out

The 2012-13 season was one of chaos in Sinsheim as Hoffenheim went through four coaches and went within a whisker of ending their time in the Bundesliga.

A first round exit from the DFB Pokal at the hands of Regionalliga side Berliner AK was followed by three successive defeats as the Bundesliga got underway. When the Hinrunde finished with six losses on the bounce, Hoffenheim found themselves languishing in 16th position and occupying a relegation berth.

Babbel was sacked in the midst of that poor run and replaced by Frank Kramer. The Rückrunde saw Marco Kurz installed, but he couldn’t improve the situation leading to his sacking in April with the club in 17th position and seemingly headed for the drop. Next in was Markus Gisdol and he was to oversee a nail-biting finish to the campaign.

Going into the final game of the season, Hoffenheim looked doomed with Augsburg and Fortuna Düsseldorf two points ahead of them. A tough looking away trip to Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund was their final match and with 13 minutes left they trailed 1-0 thanks to a Robert Lewandowski strike.

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However, there was late drama as Sejad Salihovic converted to penalties awarded by referee Dr. Jochen Drees and Düsseldorf lost away at Hannover to secure a relegation play-off for Hoffenheim. That was duly won with a 5-2 aggregate win over FC Kaiserslautern.

The Hoffenheim fairy tale had almost become a horror story.

The Nagelsmann Effect

Under Gisdol things did improve with a 9th and an 8th place finish in the following two seasons, but the 2015-16 season saw a deterioration in the team’s fortunes. One win in their first ten league games saw them anchored firmly in the bottom two and the panic button was pressed with Gisdol fired. The club appointed veteran Huub Stevens until the end of the season, but sensationally revealed that 28-year-old Julian Nagelsmann would take over the following season. The youngster hadn’t even passed his coaching exams at the time.

However, when Stevens resigned in February 2016 citing health reasons (Hoffenheim were 17th in the table), Nagelsmanns’s appointment was brought forward and the Bundesliga had its youngest trainer ever.

At the time it was a massive risk for the club, but as time has shown, it was the perfect decision for Hoffenheim and one that has paid its dividends. Nagelsmann, dubbed mini-Mourinho by Tim Wiese during his time at the club, steered the club to safety in the remaining games before really taking things to another level.

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Last season saw Hoffenheim finally achieve European qualification with a brand of attacking football which saw them finish fourth and secure Champions League football. A flash in the pan? Well no, as this past season saw TSG achieve a best-ever third place finish with a final matchday 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund.

So it was quite the party for Hoffenheim as they celebrated ten seasons of Bundesliga football. From the ninth tier to the Champions League has been a meteoric rise. Hoffenheim have had (and still have) their detractors, but under Nagelsmann, they are enjoying the best years in their decade of top flight football.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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