Don't look now, but newly promoted Hannover are flying in the Bundesliga. Despite their dream start, Hannover fans are still up in arms as main investor Martin Kind is poised to assume full control of the club.
Andre Breitenreiter (pictured above) has worked his coaching magic again.
Three seasons ago, he had Paderborn top of the Bundesliga table after four games. This season, he had Hannover in second place – tied on points with first place Borussia Dortmund – before the beginning of Matchday 5 and his side's clash with Freiburg on Wednesday. Following Tuesday's matches, Hannover slippped to fourth.
However, a good start doesn't always lead to survival. Paderborn finished bottom of the table in the 2014-15 season, losing their last three games. Hannover's return to the top flight is only four games old, so their battle for survival has just started.
The biggest difference between Hannover's current team and the one Breitenreiter led three seasons ago is experience. Hannover's entire defense is full of players who have spent multiple seasons in the Bundesliga.
Two of them – Julian Korb and Matthias Ostrzolek – were recruited before the season started. Korb, who played for Borussia Mönchengladbach last season, has struggled with injuries for much of his career, but he has played every minute of Hannover's five games in the Bundesliga and German Cup. Ostrzolek was the odd man out at Hamburg, but now has supplanted Hannover veteran Miiko Albornoz in defense.
With the defenders in the fold, Hannover have allowed just one goal in four games. A strong defense has often been the way promoted teams have avoided going straight back down. RB Leipzig allowed the third-fewest number of goals in their first Bundesliga campaign last season, and Cologne and Ingolstadt were tied with Hertha Berlin and Mainz for the fourth-least goals-allowed in 2015-16, when they were the newly promoted sides.
However, Hannover's recruitment strategy is about much more than stability. In Korb, Ostrzolek and former Hoffenheim captain Pirmin Schwegler, Hannover recruited high-character players to provide a strong presence for the younger players in the dressing room. Such additions made the loss of Edgar Prib – the club's captain who injured his knee in August – much easier to stomach.
"The guys that came in worked immediately," goalkeeper Philipp Tschauner said in a recent interview with German football publication kicker. "Everyone is there for everyone. That's been a decisive factor for us this season."
Anger towards Martin Kind
However, while there has been much on-field success this season, there has also been much unrest off the pitch. In Hannover's first home match of the season, the club's ultras held up signs vilifying the club's president and main investor, Martin Kind. The disgruntlement continued into their second home match last Friday, when fans decided to protest by being silent and left before the players could acknowledge their support.
The fans' animosity towards Kind, who has invested heavily in the club for the last 20 years, stems from his desire to assume full control of Hannover. Kind is currently waiting for approval from the German Football League (DFL) to allow his business group to buy enough additional shares to give him a majority state in the club. DFL rules allow an individual or entity to do after two decades of major investment in any given club. If approved, Hannover would become the third Bundesliga club exempt from the "50+1 rule" that requires that clubs' members retain majority voting rights.
So the fans appear to be using the platform they have to voice their displeasure, but the protests come as Hannover are off to their best-ever start to a Bundesliga season. Breitenreiter does not appreciate the irony, condemning the Hannover fans after Friday's win over Hamburg.
"Everyone has their own opinion, I'm not against that. If someone thinks they have to speak up, then this is the attitude and we cannot prevent it," Breitenreiter told kicker. "What I find very daft is that the ultras left the stadium despite the players standing in front of the fan section and thanking the supporters. That is really a clear message against the team."
However, not all Hannover fans are going along with these protests. During Hannover's first home game against Schalke, much of the crowd whistled at the ultras and shouted "Ultras raus" ("ultras out").
The polarizing narratives surrounding Hannover may only get stronger if the club continues to perform well.
Matchday 5 fixture list
Borussia Mönchengladbach 2 - 0 Stuttgart
Augsburg 1-0 RB Leipzig
Wolfsburg 1 - 1 Werder Bremen
Cologne vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (Wednesday, 18:30 CEST)
Hertha Berlin vs. Leverkusen (Wednesday, 20:30 CEST)
Freiburg vs. Hannover
Hamburg vs. Borussia Dortmund
Mainz vs. Hoffenheim