Hamburg failing to stop rot as pressure rises for Van Marwijk
Hamburger SV had Europa League football in sight; now they face the daunting challenge of survival. Gone is the golden period of the 1970s and 80s when the team brought home Bundesliga titles, European glory and Kevin Keegan.
Their league position - 17th of 18 - threatens their Bundesliga record as the only team not to have been relegated since the league was founded. But even dinosaurs aren't immune to extinction - and der Dinosaurier are no exception.
To claim HSV are in crisis is an understatement. After last week's 3-0 loss to Hertha Berlin, mayhem ensued. Unhappy fans vandalised the players' cars, while other supporters demanded to speak with their underperforming stars, chanting "s*** millionaires" and "Jarchow out". Wednesday's humiliating 5-0 defeat in the DFB-Pokal was only mitigated because their opponents were Bayern Munich.
Die Rothosen lost their sixth straight game last week, a first in the club's history, and are idling in the drop zone with 16 points. They've had a terrible start to die Rueckrunde (the second half of the season) and currently carry the worst defensive record, having conceded a dreadful 47 goals; 15 in their last five games.
There's pressure on Bert van Marwijk, but assigning responsibility to the coach alone misses the bigger picture. There's a lot amiss at the club. From fans and management to investors, everyone has a different view as to the most appropriate course of action.
One such distracting voice is that of investor Klaus-Michael Kuehne. With his money Kuehne helped usher in the return of Rafael van der Vaart. The local billionaire is highly outspoken, so much so that even former HSV captain Martin Groth suggested he toned down his rhetoric.
Groth believes that for a club to be successful it must speak with one voice. "There are simply too many that must constantly create an image/name for themselves in the open," Groth told der Spiegel this week. "These people bring unrest to the club."
More than those external influences, the mental attitude of the team has also come under the microscope. Van Marwijk believes there are lapses in concentration and issues of confidence. "You can train and train, but when things aren't going right you have to use your character to get into games. Just playing is not enough," the Dutchman said last month.
But it's been easier said than done. Even when the team look like they're on the up they always find a way to collapse, whether early or late in the game. They're unproductive and highly disorganised. They're outplayed and tormented, chasing games for long intervals. But that only makes it harder to understand, since the quality is there. This is a team that could comfortably sit mid-table, if not contest for a European spot.
So who's to blame; the coach or the players?
Van Marwijk is often criticised for his softness. Media reports suggested the Dutchman implemented a strict 9pm curfew recently, but giving his team two full days off after the pitiful Schalke defeat three weeks ago didn't flatter his cause. Questions around Van Marwijk's training sessions - that he doesn't make his team train hard enough - is also a concern. Some argue that it's often reflected in the team's performances and that HSV often run less than their opponents. Hamburg ran 9km fewer than rivals Hoffenheim a fortnight ago, for example, bringing into question the team's effort, defensive contribution and work-rate.
It's easy to point the finger at Van Marwijk, however, and whether these accusations carry any merit is questionable when the players themselves have come out in their coach's defence. Van der Vaart has admitted the club's plight is down to the team's poor performances rather than their coach.
The Dutch midfielder has a point. Die Rothosen haven't scored in their last four matches in all competitions. Injuries have played a role. The absence of top scorer Pierre-Michel Lasogga has revealed a dependency about the team up front, and with young Maximilian Beister ruled out for the season a lot is riding on Van der Vaart, Hakan Calhanoglu and remaining striker Jacques Zoua. But even with injuries in mind, Hamburg are clearly underachieving.
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Return of Magath?
Desperate times often call for desperate measures, and therefore the linking of a strong personality like Felix Magath doesn't come as a surprise. Although last week chief executive Carl Jarchow said Hamburg will continue with Van Marwijk, the tension is rising. This week German media are reporting that a pro-Magath faction inside the club want the iron fist to return. Since Jarchow is a Van Marwijk supporter, it's believed this faction in the 11-man advisory committee are now rooting for the removal of both.
On Thursday, however, former Wolfsburg boss Magath made an official statement on his Facebook page explaining that he didn't have the support of everyone at the club and that a comeback has been ruled out. He claims there are too many individual interests that prevent HSV from coming together. He apologised for not carrying better news and that he's disappointed the club aren't interested in rebuilding and starting afresh.
Certainly, though, events turn quickly in football. Van Marwijk's job is not as safe as it appears, and there is no doubt that this weekend's game against rock-bottom Eintracht Braunschweig must result in victory.
Hamburg are at a point where a solution can't be found unless the root cause is diagnosed. Whether it's lack of motivation, coaching, player performancse or a mix of all, it's clear that continuing to lose will only further demoralise the team.
"It's our quality, we are simply playing badly," said Van Marwijk. "The season is a catastrophe for us. The way we're playing football isn't fun, it's impossible."
The remark speaks volumes. After all, if you take the fun out of the game, there's little to play for.