After avoiding their first relegation from the Bundesliga since the league’s creation in 1963 by the skin of their teeth, you would expect things to be done differently at Hamburg as they prepare for their 51st season in the German top flight.
In the aftermath of Hamburg’s fortunate 1-1 draw away against second division side, Greuther Fϋrth in the Bundesliga play-off fixture, manager Mirko Slomka looked the post-match reporter in the eye and said that everything would be different next season.
Catalogue of promises
His catalogue of promises, which could fill a young boy’s Christmas list, included the likes of his players being more fit, more money being spent on transfers, investing funds in the club’s grassroots system and even selling some players who proved that they did not want to play for the badge.
As he went through his bible of promises, figures of speech sounding more like rants than solemn vows, it was almost like a massive weight had been lifted off his shoulders and he preceded to the dug-out every ounce of a relieved man.
In reality, each and every Hamburg fan the world over wouldn't have minded if he had just made his way to the dug-out without stopping in front of a camera and pledging widespread change, after he achieved mission impossible and then some.
The Imtech Arena outfit were all but relegated when the 46 year old took over from former manager, Bert Van Marwijk in February, and it seemed that his appointment was made in preparation for the upcoming season within the financial hell-hole of the second Bundesliga.
In some strange twist of events, Slomka managed to rally the troops to a 3-0 home win against Borussia Dortmund in his first game in charge, and you can argue that what was to follow was perhaps as quirky and insane as this lone result.
Indeed, Hamburg went to lose their five last Bundesliga fixtures and had to rely on a solitary Pierre-Emile Lasogga goal to ensure that they didn't suffer a completely soul-crunching exit from the first tier of German football.
Once all the dust settled on what had been a disastrous campaign from start to finish, the media inquiry came out in full swing, with the Imtech Arena outfit coming under a barrage of strident investigations.
Each day was met with negativity of the highest level until Slomka announced that he had signed Lasogga, the striker who saved the club from possible collapse on a five-year deal from fellow Bundesliga rivals, Hertha Berlin.
Something obviously lit up in Slomka’s head, as he seeked to escape a long stretch of negative press, as he followed up the £7.48 million transfer of Lasogga with six further signings.
Since the first week of July, just over £23 million has been spent on new signings, coincidently £12 million more than Bayern have spent during this transfer window, with HSV desperate from Bundesliga stability.
The arrivals of midfielder Valon Behrami and Nicolai Muller from SSC Napoli and FSV Mainz respectively have sparked so much widespread enthusiasm that the majority of the German press have been nothing but positive in their views towards the club in the past week.
However, when everything seemed to be going just swimmingly, the 46-year-old against both public and private pressure from within the club to reinstate, the hated Rafael van der Vaart as his captain ahead of the new season.
Indeed, everyone from the hierarchy down including the club’s senior investor Klaus-Michel Kϋhne, who in June categorically said that Hamburg should do all that they could to move the Dutchman on due to his desire to be anywhere else than north Germany, have been left with egg on their face.
They were convinced that Slomka would be true to his word when he said that he would move the Dutch international on as the club look to rebuild for the Bundesliga season, with the 46 year old even admitting that the former Tottenham midfielder would most likely lose his captaincy.
In what seemed like a logical decision by Slomka, to name arguably his best player as the captain ahead of the 2014-15 Bundesliga campaign, he has not only come under further criticism from the press, but has also put his job on the line before a single ball has been kicked.
What perhaps is stranger than Slomka’s decision to give the captain’s armband back to a man who never wanted to be at the club, is the fact that the German manager has also brushed off any protest, as if he made came up with this plan in the Greuther Fϋrth post-match interview.
Clever, stupid, bold
Clever, or just plain stupid, this bold move by Slomka has left the 46 year old walking a tightrope, with his job looking in paramount danger, and it is believed that this decision was merely made in relation to van der Vaart’s image.
The Dutch international is reported to be earning over £2 million at the club in wages a year, and it is thought that he would not be involved with Hamburg for the new season, let alone being named as captain with the red and whites desperate to reduce their wage bill.
One thing for sure is that this move by the former Schalke manager will unlikely result in the departure of van der Vaart, but could quite possibly be the decision which costs the former Hannover manager his job, whilst if last season is anything to go by, Hamburg it’s place in the 2015-16 Bundesliga campaign.
Slomka deserves widespread praise for keeping the club within the Bundesliga, but you get the feeling despite making some crucial big name signings, this one decision could have the biggest and most negative impact on the club for the foreseeable future.
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