April 23, 2017

The Keys to Hertha Berlin’s Rise: Developing and Revitalizing Talent

With another terrific performance against Borussia Mönchengladbach  on MatchDay 10, Hertha Berlin moved into third in the Bundesliga. (Since then, Hoffenheim have overtaken BSC on goal difference). Based on the way that Hertha have played this season and last season, they’ve become one of the league’s better sides. With this reality, the fact that this club used to be regulars in the relegation battle fades away from the memories of most viewers. Some of what’s fueled their incredible rise has been Hertha’s development of young talent and revitalizing veterans under the guidance of Coach Pal Dárdai and Sporting Director Michael Preetz.

Developing Young Talent — Weiser, Stark, Brooks

Bayern’s loss makes Hertha W(e)iser

Since Hertha’s young talents aren’t necessarily academy players, sometimes their ability to develop talent gets overlooked. My colleague and lifelong Hertha fan Max Regenhuber wrote about Hertha’s failures in the past here. Clubs like Schalke, Mainz and Cologne who have academy talents might get more recognition, but Hertha are right on that kind of level. The young players that they’ve been able to turn into top players include Mitchell Weiser, Niklas Stark, and American John Brooks. All of these players have blossomed and continued to improve as the games and, for some, seasons go on.

The most notable player that Hertha has developed is Weiser, whose rise has been steady but overlooked. Having gone through the Cologne youth setup, Weiser became known as a Bayern player, who despite being young and full of potential hardly got any game time. Instead of waiting for a chance  like other Bayern youngsters was likely never going to come, he decided to leave Munich to get a first team chance before it was too late. And the German has taken full advantage of it with Hertha.

After posting a Whoscored match rating of 7 with Bayern in under 800 minutes in 2014/15, he replicated that success in his first season with Berlin with a rating of 6.98 at the right-back position. He compiled a solid total of four assists and two goals to go along with his passing last season. Defensively he was also steady for Hertha, as Weiser averaged over two tackles and about two interceptions per game. But along with the German’s all around play, he also played over 2,400 minutes of football last term. That’s more than triple the amount he played for Bayern, and more than half of the amount of minutes he’s played in his entire senior career.

This season, Weiser has moved farther up the pitch into the right midfield spot, and he’s blossomed there us far. His match rating is up to 7.41, which gives him the 10th best match rating in the Bundesliga. Weiser has a goal to go along with four assists this season, including two of the highest quality against Gladbach. He’s averaging over two key passes per game (compared to 0.7 last year), and his interception total is up to almost three per game this year, which shows that Weiser is becoming an all-around star . His development from part-time contributor at Bayern to being one of the 10 best players in the league thus far is remarkable, and it shows how effective Hertha’s player development/coaching is. At only 22, Weiser has an incredibly bright future ahead of him and could be the Philipp Lahm replacement for Germany very soon.

Sehr Stark!

Besides Weiser there is Niklas Stark, another young talent who has developed at the capital city and has also flown under the radar with his progress. The 21-year-old started his career at Nürnberg, where he stayed for four seasons. After making his debut as a teenager in the 2012-13 season, he steadily developed and became a fixture in the first team in 2014-15. With 24 Bundesliga and 30 2.Bundesliga appearances, he quickly proved himself to be good enough for the top flight. In a shrewd piece of business Hertha snapped him up for just three million Euros in August of 2015, and he’s been steady ever since.

In a part-time role last term, Stark posted a 6.6 match rating, with two goals to go along with three clearances and an interception per game. Stark played his part for BSC last season, but with more playing time this year (already over 800 minutes compared to 1400 last year) he’s blossoming. His match rating is up to 7.1, which is a very good mark for a defender. He’s averaging 2.6 tackles and over two interceptions per game, while he still has a good amount of clearances. His improvement has been noticeable from last season, and Hertha once again deserve credit for being able to develop Stark. His excellent man-marking of Mario Götze in the match against BVB was detailed in Ryan Tank’s tactical analysis.

John Anthony Brooks

Another player that Hertha have developed is one that American fans know quite well in John Brooks. The U.S. international has been with Hertha for his entire career and Brooks has been a Bundesliga player since 2013-14, after he helped Hertha gain promotion from the 2.Bundesliga. Brooks has been a solid player for quite some time, but while every American fan has been watching Christian Pulisic, Brooks is quietly emerging into a star.

After posting a solid 6.88rating last season and 7.03 the season before, Brooks is up to 7.27 this term. This rating is top class for a defender and it puts him in the top 35 in the league, and even in the top five for defenders, per Kicker. His rating is due to career-highs across the board, with Brooks making two tackles, three interceptions, and six clearances per game for Berlin and his passing percentage is up to 88% thus far.. His development for the club and the national team has been steady, and ever since his World Cup goal, Brooks has become a key part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans. He’s consistently one of the USMNT’s best performers on the pitch, and if he can keep developing, there is no limit to how good the American can be. 

Revitalizing Veteran Talents — Kalou, Ibisevic, Jarstein

Besides producing some fine young talent, Hertha have also done a tremendous job of finding talented and in some cases undervalued players. These players include top goal scorers Salomon Kalou, Vedad Ibišević, and goalkeeper Rune Jarstein. All of these players have become essential parts of Hertha’s success this season and last and cost just 1.8 million, with Jarstein and Ibisevic coming on free transfers.

The most impactful players that Hertha have been able to unmask have been Kalou and Ibišević, who both had success and failure before coming to Berlin. Kalou is well-known for being at Chelsea, where he had moderate amounts of success. The Ivorian scored ten goals during the 2010-11 season, but didn’t see a lot of action in any other season. He then went to Lille, and he had tremendous success with 14 goals and 16 goals in his two seasons in France, and Hertha saw his quality and signed him. Even though his Chelsea tenure and his age were reasons to doubt the Ivorian’s talent, Berlin bet on what he did in France and signed him. To be fair, the club weren’t exactly risking massive amounts with 1.8 million Euros, but that’s never really been Hertha’s modus operandi.  A difficult preseason for Kalou, with the deaths of his father and aunt delaying his training and then back problems hindering him when he got to Berlin, delayed the veteran’s appearance for BSC until MatchDay 8, but the support shown by Hertha supporters has given Kalou even more motivation to have another outstanding season.

Ibišević has a similar story to Kalou in that he experienced years of success with VFB Stuttgart and Hoffenheim. He scored double-digit Bundesliga goals three times: Bundesliga fans remember his 18 goals in 17 Hinrunde matches from the 2008/09 season, and in 2011-12 he also scored 8 goals in 15 games. But in 2014-15 Ibišević found himself on the bench at Stuttgart, and in the entire season he didn’t score one goal. At 31, it would’ve been easy for Hertha to look past what looked like a declining player, but instead they brought him in the Bosnian’s overall career accomplishments. Both signings presented some risks, but Hertha were able to unleash the talent that Ibišević and Kalou has shown previously, which is part of why Dárdai, Preetz and Berlin have been so successful.

Besides those two goalscorers, Hertha’s Norwegian goalkeeper Jarstein has also been a hit. Even though Jarstein was playing in the relatively obscure Norwegian top flight, his performances with the national team brought the keeper to BSC’s attention. Despite being almost 30, Berlin knew what he was capable of, and after being the number two at first behind Thomas Kraft, Jarstein took advantage of Kraft’s injury to establish himself as a valuable Bundesliga performer. Jarstein has a 6.91 match rating this season, which is second among all Bundesliga goalkeepers. Saves such as this one against Hoffenheim have allowed everyone to see how good he’s become.

With all of Hertha’s success this season and last being remarkable to watch, the talent they’ve been able to develop is admirable. From young and rising players like Weiser to older but talented stars like Kalou, Berlin, Dárdai has been able to get the best out of everyone, as even Julian Schieber, who’d seen his career profile spiral downwards after doing little in two seasons at Dortmund, adding a pair of goals as a substitute while Valentin Stocker is stepping up after a somewhat disappointing start to his Bundesliga career. If the nucleus of Hertha’s squad can stay in form for the entire season, there is no reason why Hertha can’t qualify for Europe again. In fact, they have enough talent to even make a run at the Champions League places.

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Alex Lynch

Alex a passionate fan of the Bundesliga and German Football who resides in the United States, who also loves writing and talking about the Bundesliga.

1 Comment

  1. Really interesting article Alex! Completely agree with every point you made. Hertha BSC certainly building a bright future if they can stay on the path they’re on. If they can gain Champions League football (which looks like a strong possibility right now) they can potentially bring in even more exciting youngsters as well as a big name player possibly. Exciting times for the capital club! I have actually just been to watch them play against VFL Wolfsburg at the Volkswagen Arena. If you have the time check out my article on the match. Should hopefully be up in a couple of days.

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