It is funny how everything can change in a space of just a month. One moment you are destined for one certain fate, only to see everything change for the better through a cycle of blood, sweat and tears. Just ask maverick Hamburg midfielder, Nicolai Müller that one.
Indeed, just like a few of his other teammates including Netherlands guru, Rafael van der Vaart, and Pierre-Michel Lassoga who scored the crucial away goal against Greuther Fürth when Hamburg last found themselves in familiar relegation territory last season, Müller and his comrades were scapegoated.
During the course of Hamburg’s ill-fated 2014-15 Bundesliga season, the unimpressive trio, with the exception of Müller failed to once again live up to their expectations, mustering between themselves a mere nine goals.
Towards the end of March it just go to much to handle, with Müller in particular, a man who rose to grace and achieved more than his trademark surname would merit during his time at league rivals Mainz singled out for Hamburg’s perils.
There was even a time before Bruno Labbadia took charge of this pathetic excuse for a sinking ship that the German midfielder had been found out, and did not deserve to take to a field which once hosted the likes of Uwe Seeler, Horst Hrubesch, and even the Kaiser himself, Franz Beckenbauer.
Even deep into extra-time last night at the Wildparkstadion where Hamburg had travelled 635 kilometres south to a part of Germany where locals cross into France to purchase their morning croissants to face a Karlsruher side who had scored a crucial away goal in the return fixture, Müller was certain that he had waved goodbye to his career up north.
Indeed, it wasn’t pretty and you could even come up with a piece of classic footballing terminology by saying that “even my grandma could have scored that one,” but Müller didn’t seem to care very much, and by his celebration it was if he had saved a family member from certain death.
As soon as the 27 year old prodded in Cleber Reis’s cross across goal, the midfielder who scored 23 goals in 90 appearances for Mainz in every competition prior to his move to Hamburg last August, Müller pushed through a barricade of police officers on riot control to celebrate with the same fans who wanted him to pack his bags only weeks earlier.
What did he care though, football is a fickle game and by the way he was grabbed and hugged by those Hamburg fans who had broke their way through the away pen, Müller just like Seeler and Beckenbauer will be remembered a club legend.
Who could blame him for celebrating the way he did. In fact every single man, woman and child who was either in the Wildparkstadion, or any other far flung corner of the world, clutching at straws and wearing a Hamburg jersey would have celebrated in a familiar fashion.
Van der Vaart once a cult figure at the club playing his last game after two years of heavy criticism in his second spell at Hamburg fell to the floor and started to cry, whilst Labbadia, brought in to make mission impossible possible ran around like Charlie Bucket did when he found Willy Wonka’s last Golden Ticket inside a bar of chocolate delight.
Blood, sweat and tears
These reactions of pure and unadulterated ecstasy were the end result of two months of strenuous work put in by Labbadia and his coaches, who quite literally turned crying boys into raging men, fighting to the very last minute.
Previously to taking over, Hamburg who had never played outside the German top tier since the Bundesliga’s creation 52 years ago, were as certain to suffer their first relegation as Vladimir Putin has winning another Russian presidential election.
The day before Labbadia took over, Hamburg had suffered their 16th defeat of the season in a woeful 1-0 defeat to fierce rivals Werder Bremen and it is reported that a scuffle broke out in the dressing room leading to players needing to be restrained from one another.
What Hamburg fans would have heard the day after would have just been more words of empty promises, with Labbadia returning to the club who had sacked him five years earlier insist that he was confident that he had the right people in his newly acquired squad to beat the drop.
Almost as if the 49 year old had cast a spell, the dark rain crowds which had been hovering above the Imetch Arena for the past ten months vanished into thin air, and just like a ray of sunlight, Hamburg won their first game in 11 weeks in a 3-2 home victory against FC Augsburg.
I will prove you wrong
Just like an 18 year old who is introduced to the concept of nightclubbing, Hamburg went on a binge of proving doubters wrong by securing two wins and one draw, including a phenomenal 2-0 victory at home to Schalke 04 on the last game of the season in their remaining four games of the season.
What every Tom, Dick and Harry fails to appreciate is that there was simply no room for error and what Labbadia and his coaching staff achieved in their first seven weeks at the helm is worthy of them receiving the key to the city.
Labbadia and his changed Hamburg side knew that anything other than a win against Schalke would have been enough to send the Dinosaurs down to the second tier of German football. The way they implemented themselves during this game was nothing other than extraordinary.
Every single man played for each other that day and although Hamburg are nowhere near the same side that they used to be during their golden age towards the end of the 20th century, they rolled back the years to show their loyal support who had been through a washing machine more times than a stained shirt that they meant business.
Indeed, even when things were not going right for them, where the old Hamburg would have just succumbed to any amount of pressure imposed on them, the new daring HSV, just like a persistent garden weed keep coming back for more.
Even after Reinhold Yabo had scored what he thought was a 78th minute winner, Hamburg who were three minutes away from doom levelled the proceedings when Marcelo Diaz blasted in an injury time free kick, before Müller rounded off seven weeks of hard work with a goal worth more than its weight in gold and TV revenue.
Next up for Hamburg, weeks of strenuous organising where they aim to make sure that they never find themselves in such a hopeless position for as long as the Bundesliga keeps spectators on its toes the world over.