Hamburg’s ultimate humiliation of relegation from the Bundesliga for the first time in the club’s history came as a surprise to very few people at the end of the season. The rot had set in long ago at the Volksparkstadion and the drop into the second tier could easily have happened in any of the past three seasons.
Relegation this time around seemed inevitable, even if the Rothosen did muster some fighting spirit at the end of the campaign- albeit too little too late. Painful as relegation has been, it has given HSV the chance to look back at the potential causes of their demise with an eye on getting things back on track.
So when did the Hamburg house begin to subside? At what point did the Dino’s extinction process commence? The spring of 2009 would be a good place to start and in particular 19 days and four games against Northern rivals Werder Bremen.
The 12th May 2018 will always be a black day in the chronicles of Hamburger SV, but if you rewind less than 10 years, you would find a much healthier picture. The 22nd of February 2009 saw Hamburg beat Bayer Leverkusen at the Bay Arena on matchday 21 to go top of the Bundesliga.
Dutch trainer Martin Jol was guiding HSV skilfully with players such as Ivica Olic, Piotr Trochowski, Paolo Guerrero and Mladen Petric in attack and Joris Mathijsen, Guy Demel and Jerome Boateng at the back. The Bundesliga title race was wide-open and as April gave way to May, Hamburg were in the hunt for three trophies.
Then the wheels fell off in spectacular fashion with fate pitting them against rivals Werder Bremen in four Nordderbies in the space of just 19 days.
Having already beaten the Grün-Weißen earlier in the season, confidence was high going into their DFB Pokal semi-final clash at the then named HSH-Nordbank-Arena. Per Mertesacker gave the visitors an 11th minute lead, but Ivica Olic managed to equalise midway through the second half. David Jarolim’s red card in injury time was a blow, but HSV managed to hold on in extra-time to take the semi-final to penalties.
However with Jerome Boateng, Ivica Olic and Marcell Jansen all missing their spot-kicks, the Rothosen were out and their hated foes were on their way to Berlin.
Eight days later and there was another Nordderby semi-final courtesy of the two Northern foes progress in the Europa League. Having overcome Galatasaray and Manchester City in the previous rounds, the European glory days seemed to be returning to Hamburg.
The first-leg of the semi-final was at the Weser Stadion and it couldn’t have gone better for Hamburg, who emerged with a 1-0 win thanks to a Piotr Trochowski header in the first half. A clean sheet and an away goal looked to have set them up nicely for the return leg.
When Olic scored after just 11 minutes, their place in the final looked odds-on, but Werder stunned them with three goals of their own from Diego, Claudio Pizarro and Frank Baumann. A second from Olic four minutes from time wasn’t enough and Werder were through on the away goals rule. More heartache for Hamburg. The fact Baumann’s goal came via a corner, which was only won by Werder courtesy of defender Michael Gravgaard’s attempted back-pass to Frank Rost taking a wicked bobble off a discarded ball of paper, hurt even more.
If that wasn’t bad enough, they had lost to Dortmund and only drawn with Hertha in the Bundesliga seeing them lose ground with Wolfsburg, Bayern and Hertha Berlin at the top of the table. Matchday 31 came just three days after the Europa League disappointment and once again brought a trip to the Weser Stadion.
A double from Portuguese striker Hugo Almeida saw Werder take all three points and plunge yet another dagger into the heart of HSV. Their final league position of 5th saw them miss out on Champions League qualification (VFB Stuttgart took 3rd three points ahead of HSV) and a season that had promised so much had been ruined by their rivals with the four derbies proving Hamburg’s downfall.
It was the beginning of the end. Coach Martin Jol was to be fired at the end of the season despite a 60.4% win percentage. In the boardroom, there was also turmoil with the efficient duo of Dietmar Beiersdorfer (General Manager) and Bernd Hoffmann (Chief Executive) ending their successful partnership with the former leaving and soon after becoming sporting director at Red Bull Salzburg.
Since Jol’s departure, Hamburg have gone through 14 different trainers (including interim ones) with two of them being employed twice. The club finished no higher than 7th and having to endure (and survive) two relegation play-offs in 2014 and 2015.
They now face a season (at least) in Bundesliga II, but the question of what might have been remains. Had those four Nordderbies in 2009 have turned out differently, would HSV have nose-dived so spectacularly? We’ll never know, but we do know that those 19 days spring (and the Papierkugel) was where the rot set in.
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