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Bundesliga: Bobic has work cut out at crisis club Hertha

October 2, 2021

Hertha Berlin slipped to a fifth defeat of the season at home to Freiburg. Despite massive funding from investor Lars Windhorst, sporting director Fredi Bobic has a huge job on his hands. He insists it will take time.

New Hertha Berlin sporting director Fredi Bobic has a huge job on his hands in the capital
New Hertha Berlin sporting director Fredi Bobic has a huge job on his hands in the capitalImage: Uwe Koch/Eibner-Pressefoto/picture alliance

Hertha Berlin 1-2 Freiburg
(Piatek 70' – Lienhart 17', Petersen 78')
Olympiastadion, Berlin

"Something has gone wrong, otherwise I wouldn't be here," Hertha Berlin's new sporting director, Fredi Bobic, said in an interview with Kicker magazine earlier this week.

Just how much has gone wrong at Hertha was evident again on Saturday, as Hertha lost 2-1 at home to Freiburg against a backdrop of whistles and boos from sections of the home crowd.

It was already a fifth defeat in seven Bundesliga games this season and, following a 6-0 thrashing against RB Leipzig last week, further increases the pressure on head coach Pal Dardai.

"I'm not clinging onto my job; I'm just helping out," Dardai had said after Hertha lost their opening three games. "Hertha has probably been looking for a great coach for a long time. Pal is a small, nice coach."

Hardly an inspirational call-to-arms from the 45-year-old Hungarian, and not one that was well received further up the Hertha hierarchy.

"It was an emotional outburst which was not appropriate for someone in a position of responsibility," Bobic told Kicker, although he insisted after the defeat to Freiburg that Dardai's job was not in danger "because the performance was generally ok, even if the result wasn't. I still saw a lot of positives."

Hertha Berlin coach Pal Dardai
'Just helping out': Hertha coach Pal Darbai is not cutting a convincing figureImage: Soeren Stache/dpa-Zentralbild/picture alliance

Big City Club: take two

But Dardai's comments do reflect the uncertainty around his own position and indeed around the club at the start of Hertha's second attempt at a restart since the arrival of investor Lars Windhorst.

Millionaire Windhorst, 44, has pumped €374 million ($450m) into Hertha since June 2019, in exchange for 66.6% control of the company which runs the club's professional football division – although majority voting rights remain with club members in accordance with the 50+1 rule.

Windhorst wants to transform Hertha from the unspectacular "old lady" of German football into a "Big City Club" representing Berlin in the Champions League. An initial attempt at lift-off under former head coach Jürgen Klinsmann was aborted amid chaotic scenes, before general manager and club legend Michael Preetz was also sacked.

"A lot of things haven't been working as well as one would have liked at Hertha, both on the pitch and in terms of the external image of the club," said Bobic. "It's my job to change things. But that will take time. It was no different in Frankfurt in 2016."

Bobic was a controversial appointment at Eintracht Frankfurt five years ago but ultimately led the Eagles from the relegation playoff to cup glory, and to within a penalty kick of the Europa League final. On his first day in the job at Hertha, he declared: "There is a lot to do."

Fredi Bobic wants to see a winning mentality from his Hertha Berlin players
Fredi Bobic wants to see a winning mentality from his Hertha Berlin playersImage: Soeren Stache/dpa-Zentralbild/picture alliance

Bobic changing the mentality

It's still early days for Bobic in Berlin, but his first moves in the transfer marker have still raised eyebrows. In Matheus Cunha (€30m to Atletico Madrid), Jhon Cordoba (€20m to Krasnodar) and Dodi Lukebakio (loaned out to Wolfsburg), Bobic has immediately let go of three of Hertha's top four scorers from last season. Or, as he sees it: "None of them hit double figures."

It wasn't just the raw statistics that Bobic was unhappy with, but rather less quantifiable attributes: "Mentality: the total sacrifice and willingness to invest their qualities in the team."

And if his outgoings had fans scratching their heads, so did Hertha's approach to signing replacements. Announcing the arrival of Myziane Maolida from Nice, the club's social media department produced a graphic featuring a loading bar which was "22%" complete, suggesting more business was to come. It wasn't.

Kevin-Prince Boateng
Street footballer: Kevin-Prince BoatengImage: Soeren Stache/dpa-Zentralbild/picture alliance

Berlin street football

At any other club, such a triviality would be quickly forgotten. But at Hertha, it was just another gaffe to add to previous marketing slogans like the infamous "We Try. We Fail. We Win," and enforcing the image of a club which is still trying to work out what it is.

Bobic hopes that Maolida, along with Suat Serdar (€8m from Schalke), Marco Richter (€7m from Augsburg) and Jurgen Ekkelenkamp (€3m from Ajax) can help establish a new "Hertha DNA," which he believes is best embodied by Kevin-Prince Boateng, the nomadic brother of German World Cup winner Jerome, now back at his hometown club for the first time since 2007.

"We have street footballers in Berlin and we want them to bring their mentality from the street to the pitch," Bobic told Kicker. "You see it with Kevin-Prince Boateng. He doesn't do things by but by intuition. And we have huge pool of such talent in Berlin which we can fish from."

Windhorst: 'I will never give up'

"Big City Club," hip "Berlin Start-Up," and now street footballers – the latest attempt at a Hertha revolution. But at least Bobic has pedigree, and at least he will get time, even if Windhorst's patience surely won't last forever.

"It definitely shouldn't take five to 10 years, but rather two to five," the investor said in a recent interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, and didn't rule out pumping even more money in. "My goal is to take Hertha to the top and if further investments have to be made for this, I will provide the funds. I will never give up."

"We speak regularly on the phone and meet up often," said Bobic of his own relationship with Windhorst. "I think it's great that he wants success. We all do. What bothers me – and I don't mean Lars Windhorst – is the general agitation and the constant questions: when is it finally going to start?

"We're trying to kick-start a new development. It can't be done with the snap of a finger. It takes time."

Hertha Berlin: More money, more problems