“Glory days, well they will pass you by”
Hamburger SV are one of the Bundesliga’s most prestigious clubs, having won SIX Bundesliga titles and three German Cups. Der Dino have certainly fallen from grace, and the glory days of Uwe Seeler’s HSV teams or the golden 70s and 80s squads with Felix Magath (yes, he was an outstanding player, before he became an insufferable head coach) and coach Ernst Happel seem light-years away. In the past couple seasons, Hamburg’s improbable streak of top flight football was put in serious jeopardy, with Bruno Labbadia’s men surviving two relegation play-offs. Speaking of Labbadia, since he left after the 2010 season, when he led the team to the UEFA Cup (now Europa League) semifinals, the club went through 12 (!!!) coaching changes before rehiring him in April, 2015. In that time period, Hamburg finished eighth in 2010/11, 15th in 11/12, seventh in 12/13, 16th in the next two years and tenth last season, for an average finishing position of twelfth.
Dreadful transfer policy
A big reason might be that HSV have fallen into the bad habit of selling their young stars – a cursory glance at HSV’s transfer history of the last six seasons sees world-class defender Jerome Boateng, along with future German defensive ace Jonathan Tah, as well as other excellent players like Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Hakan Calhanoglu, Heung-Min Son, Milan Badelj, Per Skjelbred leave the club for greener pastures. Moreover, Calhanoglu, Son and Tah all moved to Leverkusen as HSV played the Southampton to their Liverpool. The arrivals, save for Rene Adler (from Leverkusen) Lewis Holtby (Tottenham) and Nico Müller (Mainz) have been anywhere from mediocre to bad – Raphael Van Der Vaart cost 13 million the second time around, but left for free to Betis after this stretch:
16 goals and 20 assists in three seasons in the Bundesliga is what Henrikh Mkhitaryan racked up LAST YEAR on roughly the same yearly salary – 3.9 for VDV to 4.5m for Heno. Have I mentioned that Dortmund got 42 million from MU, while Betis took Van der Vaart for free?
Valon Behrami cost 6 million and gave the club 23 games before being sold to Watford for 3.5 in another bad move. Ivo Ilicevic – brought in for 4million from Kaiserslautern in the 2011/12 window – recorded 12 goals in his 90 games, and was a constant source of frustration and disappointment. Ivica Olic had nothing left after coming from Wolfsburg, and fliers taken on fringe players like Bayern’s Julian Green, or Zoltán Stieber have not worked out.
Where have all the forwards gone?
Speaking of not working out, enter Pierre-Michel Lasogga. The 24-year-old who broke through with Hertha by scoring 24 goals in 69 games has been a massive swing and a miss, considering his 8.5 million Euro price tag. More specifically, Lasogga was great at HSV in his on-loan season of 2013/14, with 13 goals in just 1500 minutes, but has scored TWELVE goals in 3600 minutes since making the move permanent. To put it differently, he needed just 115 minutes to score a goal on average as a loanee, while as a full-time HSV player he now needs 301 minutes to score. His Transfermarkt value has also taken a massive fall, from 12 million to just 4 currently!
It got so bad, that he ended up as one of our three worst forwards of the Rückrunde. The sad part is that his teammate, Sven Schipplock joined him on the squad, and another HSV player, Josip Drmic was on the Hinrunde list. How can you have THREE of the 6 worst forwards on the same team????
Those aforementioned players and Artjoms Rudnevs – a Latvian striker who returned for a second time around with HSV – ended up turning Hamburg into one of the most putrid offenses the Bundesliga has witnessed. Rudnevs managed three goals in two seasons and 1500 minutes, Drmic had one in 620 minutes due to an injury, while of course Lord Schipplock is still looking for his first HSV goal some 920 minutes of Bundesliga action later. If you are counting at home, that is four strikers, two seasons and 6600 minutes yielding 16 goals. Sandro Wagner scored 14 in 2500 minutes this season…. It’s no surprise that Olic, Ilicevic and Rudnevs were all released along with two club favorites goalkeeper Jaroslav Drobny and Gojko Kacar – with all five players leaving on free transfers.
“I’m working on a dream
Though sometimes it feels so far away
I’m working on a dream
And I know it will be mine someday”
With the summer and the new season come new hopes and ome spring cleaning – the club fired sporting director Peter Knäbel (though not for losing his backpack full of important materials) and replaced him with former Red Bull Salzburg sporting director Dietmar Beiersdorfer. More specifically, Beiersdorfer had been chairman of the board at HSV since he left Zenit St. Petersburg after the 2013/14 campaign and is on record about taking HSV back to Europe. If that means pulling double duty as CEO and director of football, for the man they nicknamed Didi, then so be it! In addition, Billionaire investor and Hamburg native, Klaus Michael Kühne – the Bundesliga 50+1 rule prevents him from de facto owning the team – has yet again pledged to support the club with his money. Let’s see how HSV have used that support by breaking down their transfers.
Silky summer signings
Having only scored 20 of their 40 goals from open play (ten on set piece, four on counters, three own goals and three penalties) HSV identified the offense as the key target area to improve. Besides the addition by subtraction moves detailed above (Olic, Rudnevs, Drmic, Ilicevic) Hamburg started their revamping of their attack by signing Bobby Wood. The Hawaii born 23-year-old American, who performed well at the Copa American spent eight years in the 1860 system before being loaned to Union Berlin. Despite only six goals in 59 Zweite Bundesliga games prior to last season, Jens Keller and Union took a chance on the center forward, who repaid them with 17 goals in 31 matches. Those goals were good enough for third best in the 2. Bundesliga and a 3.5 million Euro move to Hamburg. A seemingly solid move, but certainly not one to make waves.
Buying Alen Halilovic, the 20-year-old wunderkind from Barcelona for 5 million on the other hand certainly raised some eyebrows. The Dinamo Zagreb product, who made his Croatian league debut at 16, was quickly purchased by Barcelona, who played him in the Segunda Division then loaned him to Sporting Gijon for the 2014/15 season. Halilovic excelled at Gijon with three goals and five assists, but it was another stat that stood out: with 81 successful dribbles completed, the Croatian was third behind Neymar and Lionel Messi, per Whoscored.com
In the excellent Bundesliga.com article, he is quoted as coming to HSV to learn:
“Barcelona was a positive experience,” the Croatian told goal.com. “I also progressed during my time at Sporting Gijon. I played almost every league game for the team last season. I’m only 20 years old, but I’ve experience of playing in La Liga and now I’m in the Bundesliga. HSV is a huge club – it has great fans and a [capacity] stadium with a great atmosphere.”
Halilovic is capable of playing on either wing and as a number 10, and should be able to improve on his attacking stats (key passes, assists, throughballs) as HSV add more pieces.
Filip Kostic would definitely qualify as a major piece for Hamburg, as the Serbian winger came over from relegated VfB Stuttgart for 14 million. That amount has instantly made him the biggest signing since the Van der Vaart move, but HSV fans will hope that the 23-year-old will be a much more successful one. Having watched Kostic several times last season, I can safely say that the ability to be a world-class winger is certainly there, as he added five goals and seven assists to a good Stuttgart attack. Digging a little deeper, Kostic ended up finishing fourth in midfielders in total key passes with 69, per Squawka, just ahead of some guy named Mkhitaryan. At his best, Kostic is a blur with the ball, bombing down the left flank and setting up his teammates, who may not always finish. He is also able to hold off most players with his great strength, and can deliver some good crosses.
There are two caveats however: 1. he essentially pouted over his summer move to Schalke falling apart, and did not really start playing well until Zorniger was fired (recording his first assist the following weekend!) and his contract was doubled. There is probably some chance that Kostic is looking to move on after a year or two, if things do end up working out for him at HSV 2. Aside from being difficult to deal with, Kostic is sadly an errant passer, completing just 61.6% this season – a number so low that it wouldn’t even register on the above radar! It would also be the worst percentage for any HSV player except the goalkeepers.
Putting those three players together, there are a couple of exciting conclusions that we can draw about Hamburg: with Kostic and Halilovic, they are focusing on signing young, creative and technical players, who excel at dribbling and setting up others: Kostic and Halilovic both averaged 2.3 dribbles per match, while no one on HSV was above 1.5. Kostic’s 2.6 key passes per match also exceed Aaron Hunt, who was at 1.9 per game. Secondly, since the strikers were so atrocious that Nico Müller was HSV’s top scorer with nine goals, the club desperately needed an upgrade. Bobby Wood – of whom you can watch more of here – seems like the type of strong, dynamic finisher that Lasogga was supposed to be and should greatly benefit from the signings of Kostic and Halilovic. Taking a 1.5 flier on Frankfurt and Germany U20 striker Luca Waldschmidt is probably better than the alternatives on the roster, even if he has only scored a ton of goals in the Junior Bundesliga. Their lineup for next season should look something like this:
On the bench:
Christian Mathenia – coming over from Darmstadt for 800k is a solid backup/ replacement for when Adler gets hurt. Emir Spahic is an okay third CB, and could mentor people like Kostic and Halilovic, while Dennis Diekmeier might even start over Sakai. Gideon Jung showed some flashes last year and is still just 21, and Aaron Hunt can be very productive in a limited role. Michael Gregoritsch has put up some really big shooting numbers, and should battle for a starting job. Let’s hope that Lasogga and Schipplock are only battling each other on the training ground, because if they are getting significant playing time, you know the HSV season has derailed.
Summarizing the Hamburg offseason, we witnessed 25 million Euros spent and just 1.7 earned, but HSV have definitely upgraded their squad. I still have some questions about a defense, whose best player is Johann “Arsenal reject” Djourou, but there are worse defenses among bigger teams (Wolfsburg and Schalke come to mind) in the Bundesliga. With the additions of Wood, Kostic and Halilovic hopefully revitalizing the Hamburg attack, getting back to the seventh spot on the table and maybe squeaking into the Europa League is now a strong possibility.
As my colleague Nik Wildhagen quoted former Bayern president Uli Hoeness, “HSV could be Bayern’s biggest challenger if the club were to make use of its possibilities and get its act together.” While the first part of that statement is either a hyperbole or a compliment, the moves that HSV have made appear to show that the club is in fact sorting itself out.
Finally, Bruce Springsteen’s glory day are still going on, so why can’t HSV’s? Hey I’m from NJ, so sue me!
Special thanks and shoutouts to HSV reddit for their help!