The Death of the Dinosaur?

Michael Mancienne has had a testing start to his Hamburg career

Click on the official Hamburg website, and a clock proudly counts the time, right down to the second, that ‘the Dinosaur’ has been in the Bundesliga. But the only team never to have been relegated from the German top tier is in danger of seeing its record, like the extinct animals it is associated with, consigned to history.

It’s only early in the season – I know – but like Mark Knopfler, Hamburg are in dire straits. “I’m stunned, more or less speechless,” said Sergej Barbarez, an HSV legend and former boardroom mover-and-shaker. “They’re bringing tears to my eyes. At the moment, I’m seriously worrying whether or not I’ll be watching second division football next season.”

If the season were to stop now, Barbarez’s nightmare would be reality with his beloved club second from bottom with a single point. Of course, Hamburg fans will argue – with more than reasonable justification – that there is plenty more football to be played, but in the 270 minutes they have seen from their side this season in the Bundesliga, there is very little room for optimism.

Stability is a prized asset in the highly unstable world of football, but with their financial concerns paramount, Hamburg have not so much rocked the boat this summer as scuppered any sense of normalcy with a transfer policy very much steeped in the adage, ‘out with the old, in with the new.’ The arrivals of a host of promising but largely untried youngsters, mainly from Chelsea’s youth academy and reserve side, may help balance the books, but cannot compensate for the loss in experience and quality of the likes of Ze Roberto, Joris Mathijsen, Piotr Trochowski, and Ruud van Nistelrooy. “We have to learn quickly,” said HSV icon Uwe Seeler this week. Given most of the new recruits are barely old enough to be out of school, studying the lessons of their embarrassing defeats to Dortmund and Bayern, as well as the late concession of an equaliser to Hertha, should at least come naturally.

While the folly of youth – and the folly of the club’s über-youthful transfer policy – can carry the can for much, it shouldn’t be blamed for all the club’s ills.

“We’re leaving too much at the back and up front we have to create more chances,” was how Mladen Petric summed up the side’s current ills. The stats back up the Croatian striker, who remains the team’s one top-class performer. German football magazine kicker – incredibly – says Hamburg have the best chance-to-goal conversion ratio in the Bundesliga at 60%. However, they also calculate that the team’s three goals have come from five scoring chances, one of which was a Petric penalty, while the next lowest tally of goalscoring opportunities made is Hoffenheim’s 11. An ultra-defensive central midfield pairing of David Jarolim and Heiko Westermann, as was seen against Bayern, will hardly help improve the situation, nor will the impending departure of Eljero Elia.

Jaroslav Drobny has seen the ball hit the back of his net with alarming frequency this season

At the other end, no team has conceded more than the worrying ten HSV have shipped so far with Bayern finding the net five times against a side that featured seven players who are either out-and-out defenders or who have frequently been used in the back four in recent months. Also, though the inexperienced back four that played against Bayern, which had an average age of just 22.45, rightly took some stick, they deserve more solid backing from Jaroslav Drobny. Despite his top-flight and international pedigree, the Czech has done little to show he is an improvement on the inconsistent Frank Rost.

The overriding factor, though, is that a decent squad of players continues to chronically underperform. “There have been changes, but we still have a lot of internationals on the pitch, and most of us played in the Bundesliga last season,” admitted Marcell Jansen, one of nine players on the Allianz Arena pitch at kick-off who have represented their country at senior level. “It’s simply not good enough.”

The common thread running through Hamburg’s recent mediocrity is coach Michael Oenning, who – amazingly for me at least – got the top job after the man he had been un-ably assisting, Armin Veh, was sacked following last season’s 6-0 rout by Bayern. After enjoying the honeymoon effect of a new coach in a first-game trouncing of Cologne, Oenning has not seen his side win in ten Bundesliga games, four of which have ended in defeat.

With all the changes to his squad over the summer, it is perhaps hardly surprising Oenning does not seem to know what his best side is or how they should play. 4-2-3-1 against Dortmund became 4-1-4-1 versus Hertha before a 4-4-2 was tested – with even more calamitous consequences – against Bayern. “Oenning will have time,” new sporting director Frank Arnesen has insisted, while the man in the firing line added: “How long will the transition take? I don’t know.”

The fact is, Oenning is unlikely to be around to find out especially if this weekend’s encounter with bottom side Cologne – described frankly as “a minor final” by Jansen – ends with Hamburg propping up the top flight which has been their home for just over 48 years.

Ian Holyman

Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator

This weekend our LIVE Bundesliga coverage kicks off with Hertha vStuttgart on Friday (20:30CET) before Kaiserslautern and Bayern Munich go head-to-head on Saturday at 15:30CET. Our Half-Time programme will bring you right up to date with all of the weekend action at 17:30CET before last season’s top two, Leverkusen and Dortmund, face off at 18:30CET. Hannover and Mainz kick off Sunday’s action at 15:30CET before Schalke and surprise leaders Mönchengladbach (17:30CET) bring the curtain down on Week 4 in Germany’s top flight.

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