November 19, 2017

Taking a look at Hoffenheim’s Winter Break: Johannesburg and More

When autumn turns to winter, many of the birds of the Northern Hemisphere head south to warmer climes.

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim followed suit, heading to South Africa for winter training. As part of the “Bundesliga World Tour extravaganza” that saw all 18 clubs travel during the break, Hoffenheim spent ten days in Johannesburg. Before they departed, the club announced a launch if English versions of their Twitter and Facebook accounts to better connect with more of the club’s international fans.

While it gave the players time to recharge their batteries, there was no doubt that this was a serious training camp.

Tschuß Germany. Hello South Africa!

Hoffenheim defender Ermin Bičakčić, who arrived in the summer, said, “We’re not here on holiday . . . we’re here to step on the gas and prepare ourselves as best we can for the second half of the season.”

The players certainly found the conditions tough at first, with both the heat and the altitude taking their toll, but they certainly also found it rewarding. Midfielder Kevin Volland offered, “They were long, hard days with two or three sessions a day . . . we’ve done a lot.” The first game organised was against the University of Pretoria FC, also known as the “AmaTuks.” It turned out a bit tougher than expected for the Sinsheim side, with conditions perhaps playing a role as the game finished 1-1.

Szalai had Hoffenheim’s lone goal in their first test in South Africa

Oliver Baumann had his say on the game afterwards.

“It was a real tough one for us because everyone could feel the fatigue after the training sessions in the previous days,” offered TSG’s keeper. “I think we can take positives from it”.

After the Pretoria match, Romanian side Astra Giurgiu were announced as the final friendly opponents for the 25th January at the Rhein-Neckar Arena.

Day 8 was the likely the biggest day of the camp, due to it bringing friendly match against Kaizer Chiefs in the FNB stadium, which hosted the 2010 World Cup Final between Spain and the Netherlands. Around 15,000 fans, mainly locals, turned up to witness Anthony Modeste scoring the only goal of the match to make Hoffenheim the winners.

Modeste flashing some style for the South African audience.

Accompanying Hoffenheim on their travels was their Head of International Relations and Scouting, Lutz Pfannenstiel, who holds the distinction of being the only player to have played professionally in all six FIFA confederations, spanning 25 different clubs, among them Wimbledon (UK), Orlando Pirates (South Africa), and Vancouver Whitecaps (Canada).  Pfannstiel even spent 101 days in a Singapore prison after being accused of match-fixing before charges were dropped.

On the right, looking right at you, is Lutz Pfannstiel

Two days after the Kaizer Chiefs friendly, the boys from Baden-Württemburg were back home and getting ready for the friendly against Danish side Brøndby IF.

The day before the Brøndby test, it was announced that keeper Koen Casteels would be sold to VfL Wolfsburg, only to be immediately loaned to Werder Bremen for the rest of the season. For more on that story read Matthew Burt’s article on the matter. Casteels had fallen behind Baumann in the pecking order, and the opportunity to double their money invested in a player who’d become distinctly second-choice was too much to pass up.

Talk of a potential Premier League return for Anthony Modeste have not yet materialized fully, but that they’d even consider parting ways with such a talent shows confidence in southwest Germany is shining bright.

When match day arrived, the winter preparations combined with the comforts of home to provide a bloodbath. Hoffenheim completely dominated in the 7-0 rout. An own-goal and a smart turn-and-finish from Anthony Modeste was all that the fans saw in the first half but floodgates opened after the break. Bičakčić scored to make it 3-0 before Hoffenheim then scored four times in four minutes around the 70-minute mark to provide the final tally.

All in all, it has been a productive break for the Sinsheim outfit, with players having worked hard to get into top condition heading into the Rückrunde.

“We had the best conditions in South Africa to put in intense and highly-concentrated preparation,” summarized Sporting Director Alexander Rosen.

Peter Rettig took a slightly longer-view on where Hoffenheim stand at this point in the season.

“We’re still at the beginning of our development and our expectations can’t be too high,” cautioned Hoffenheim’s chairman.

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Ryan currently lives in Northern Ireland but studies Mechanical Engineering in Scotland at Robert Gordon University. His complete obsession for all divisions of German football as a whole is only beaten by his love for 1899 Hoffenheim, he could possibly be the only Hoffenheim fan in the World for whom English is a first language, certainly the only one in the UK. He tries to make it to Germany for football at least once a year.

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