Germany’s capital team in Bundesliga doldrums
2 March 2008
BERLIN, Germany – Berlin may be the capital of Germany, but remains a footballing backwater. Hertha, the city’s only Bundesliga club, are rarely able to fill the 74,500-capacity Olympic Stadium.
With its running track and much of its Nazi-era architecture retained in the new design, the stadium is not the sort of arena designed to get football pulses racing, despite being venue for the 2006 World Cup final and the German Cup final every year.
Neither are Hertha Berlin, one of Germany’s oldest clubs, capable at present of making the breakthrough needed to compete on the field with the likes of Bayern Munich.
Hertha remain a sleeping giant with an image problem, desperately trying to take the next step up and give the capital city some footballing clout.
With just two championship titles going back to 1930 and 1931, Berliners are hungry for success. However, under Swiss coach Lucien Favre, performances have not matched ambition this season and the team languishes in mid-table.
Sporting director Dieter Hoeness would dearly love to provide Berliners with some success before he steps down in 2010. He insists improvements are continuing to be made all round but that patience is still required.
Hertha appear no nearer to a title than the club was when it regained promotion to the Bundesliga in 1997 after all but two of the previous 17 seasons out of the top flight.
Yet Hoeness says Hertha is no longer the sleeping giant but now belongs to the Bundesliga’s leading clubs.
"For me, a giant is a team which has basically established itself in the leading group in the Bundesliga. In a 10-year evaluation we are certainly sixth or seventh, and will confirm this in the next few years," he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
"Of course, the next step has now to follow. We have invested much in the substance of the club, in the youth academy, in the framework condition, in the infrastructure."
Hoeness, 55, the younger brother of Bayern Munich general manager Uli Hoeness, was a powerful centre-forward who played in the 1986 World Cup final for West Germany against Argentina – one of six caps – and won five Bundesliga titles (and three cups) with Bayern Munich.
He knows that what counts are results – everything else will follow, including an improved footballing image.
"If you are playing for third or fourth in the table then the fans in Berlin are there. The image depends only on the league table. It shouldn’t be like that but it is," he said.
"In the last 10 years a million people have come to Berlin from other cities. They’ve brought fan bedsheets from Dortmund, Hamburg, Stuttgart in their suitcases, they’ve got Bayern in their hearts.
"To change that you need time."
Berliners in the last few decades have had plenty of time to ponder the club’s past troubles.
After BFC Hertha 92 was formed in 1892 – taking its name from a steamboat – it merged in 1920 with Berliner Sport Club to form Hertha Berliner Sport Club, and enjoyed much early success, especially between the wars.
More recently it has overcome bribery and match-fixing scandals (in the 1960s and early 1970s), various financial and debt problems (the last in the mid-1990s), and even relegation to the amateur third division in the mid-80s.
The last decade in the top flight therefore translates into a major revival, with the club able to transform its moribund old stadium and attract and develop good players.
There have been regular UEFA Cup appearances and even one Champions League campaign in 1999/2000 when Hertha managed to defeat Chelsea and AC Milan.
However, Hertha’s waters have been distinctly choppy for coaches. Since Juergen Roeber departed in 2002, there have been six permanent or temporary holders including Falko Goetz twice, Huub Stevens and Hans Meyer.
Now 51-year-old Favre – a former Switzerland international midfielder who led Zurich to two league titles in 2006 and 2007 – is seen as the man to steer the good ship Hertha into more successful waters.
Hoeness says the club has come through its financial troubles, has overseen a stadium reconstruction and survived the setback of the collapse of TV money. It’s on course for success.
[Copyright dpa 2008]