Bayern Set To Kick Off Bundesliga By Adding To Hamburg’s Comedy Of Errors | Raphael Honigstein
The Bundesliga traditionally starts with the champions taking on another top team at home on Friday night. But for the 53rd instalment of the competition, the bosses at Frankfurt HQ have come up with a radically different idea. They’re sending Hamburg to Munich instead.
It must be a practical joke of some sort. Or perhaps an ironic, self-effacing comment on Bayern’s over-bearing dominance: “Uncompetitive, shmuncompetitive. It’s not as if it’ll be double figures at the Allianz Arena”. Alternatively, the consultancy that was recently used to research the appeal of the Bundesliga brand might have advised that religious minorities getting eaten alive by wild beasts/Bavarians was still the most popular form of stadium entertainment. The visitors, believers in the messianic powers of Bruno Labbadia to deliver them from another season in relegation purgatory, blameless men and women whose only misfortune is to carry “the diamond [badge] in their hearts”, as the Nordic article of faith demands, have been cruelly cast as the hors d’oeuvre for the red monster.
Related: Any club in need of a goalkeeper should look to Germany and the Bundesliga
HSV have conceded six goals in their last five trips to Fröttmaning. Not in total, on average. 8-0 to Bayern it finished last year; 9-2 in 2013. While none of these disasters happened during the Life of Bruno – the 49-year-old was indeed in charge at HSV the last time the “Bundesliga dino” beat the Southerners in 2009 – a demoralising defeat on match-day one will see the club snap back into despair, merely two months after the euphoria of a second consecutive last-minute reprieve in the relegation play-off. “It’s happening again,” the German newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt wrote ominously on Tuesday.
But the prospect of a poor opening performance in 2015-16 is not even the worst of it. After valiant attempts to clear out a truck-load of non-performers and perennial crocks (Rafael van der Vaart, Heiko Westermann, Slobodan Rajkovic, Valon Behrami and Marcell Jansen) from the expensively assembled bric-a-brac squad, and a relatively positive pre-season, Hamburg instantly resumed their role as everybody’s favourite object of ridicule by crashing out 3-2 away to the fourth division side FC Carl Zeiss Jena in the DFB Cup last weekend.
A few days later, details of players’ contracts and other sensitive club papers, as well as credit cards and a personal ID card belonging to the sporting director, Peter Knäbel, were found discarded in a public park. A woman found the material but her attempts to return them to HSV proved abortive at first, as neither the club nor Knäbel realised that a rucksack containing said contents had actually gone missing. “I’m putting on my steel helmet and the police will investigate,” Knäbel said, in anticipation of the embarrassing fallout. The only good news for HSV was that acute Schadenfreude fatigue had developed by the time it was revealed that the merchandising department had used the picture of a Hertha BSC fans choreography on a T-shirt celebrating their continued stay in the top flight on Wednesday.
“We had won back some credit [by winning the relegation] but the game v Jena has given people the possibility to hit back at us with criticism and malice. That hurts,” Labbadia acknowledged before the game in Munich. “Uhrensöhne”, the website of news channel n-tv called the team earlier in the summer, a harsh pun best translated as “clock suckers”. HSV’s famous stadium clock counting the hours and seconds of their top-flight existence has become sadly symbolic of a club that has little more than nostalgia to look forward to.Hamburg CEO Dietmar Beiersdorfer talking at a press conference earlier this week. Photograph: Daniel Bockwoldt/dpa/Corbis
More people than ever before will get a chance to experience the travails of the former blue chip side, thanks to a new multi-territory TV deal with Fox Sport that will also bring important visibility in the US for the German league. One year on from the warm post-World Cup glow, there has been much anguished hand-wringing about the Premier League’s media rights income blowing that of the Bundesliga out of the water.
“The English are overtaking us, left and right,” warned Bayern’s CEO, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. But without a second bidder for the domestic live matches, the situation is unlikely to change. Whereas smaller clubs like Augsburg (Baba Rahman to Chelsea) and Mainz (Shinji Okazaki to Leicester) welcome the opportunity to sell on cheap imports at exorbitant mark-ups to the Premier League, sides with European ambitions will have a harder time holding on to their star players. Borussia Dortmund not losing any of their regulars is encouraging in that context. But it remains to be seen if Wolfsburg, the club best-placed, financially, to challenge Bayern, will withstand the pressure from Manchester City to part with Kevin De Bruyne, last season’s player of the year in Germany. The loss of the Belgian would be keenly felt beyond Lower Saxony.
Pep Guardiola and his obscenely deep squad, with the new arrivals Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa, out to win a historic fourth consecutive title, will nevertheless not have it all their own way. Roger Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen look an enticing proposition after their addition of André Ramalho from Salzburg and Charles Aránguiz from Internacional. BVB will put the squeeze on the Champions League places, Wolfsburg are solid, Borussia Mönchengladbach will be hard to shift and Schalke should bounce back, too, now that Madame Tussaud’s Roberto Di Matteo has given way for the prodigious André Breitenreiter. In fact, there is a case to be made that the general level of coaching – and thus, football – will be higher than ever before.
Add the old school, first-time-back-in-the-big-time-since-1982 charm of SV Darmstadt’s Böllenfalltor, a 16,000 capacity stadium that looks exactly as the name suggests to the mix and you should have a season that will be pretty compelling, the one-sided nature of Friday’s fixture notwithstanding.