Jürgen Klinsmann returned to the Bundesliga after 10 years away from club management. His team suffered a narrow defeat, but success is possible for the 1990 World Cup winner.
It was strange to see Jürgen Klinsmann back in the dugout for a Bundesliga game, and even stranger to see him in a Hertha Berlin tracksuit.
The former Bayern Munich, Germany and US coach returned to club football after a 10-year break, and his first task was to host Borussia Dortmund. This isn't the worst time to be playing Dortmund though, and Klinsmann’s side almost stole a point in an absorbing contest at the Olympiastadion.
Eleven points from 12 games wasn't a great return, but the sacking of Ante Covic was harsh given that he'd only been in the job since the summer. Football management is a brutal business though, and Hertha have ambition, especially since the recent €125m ($138m) injection of cash from the Windhorst group.
The choice to bring in Klinsmann was as much a commercial one as a football one, although there is hope that the former Germany international can attract some big names to the German capital. Klinsmann also has a vested interest in the club, given that he is a board member and his son Jonathan plays there as a goalkeeper.
Klinsmann's brief is firstly to keep Hertha in the Bundesliga, and secondly to push for Europa League qualification. The former should be quite routine, given the players at his disposal, while the latter would represent a good achievement.
The visit of a Borussia Dortmund side in something of a crisis represented as much of an opportunity as a threat in Klinsmann's opener. But Dortmund went 2-0 up in the blink of an eye, with goals by Jadon Sancho and Thorgan Hazard, and Klinsmann’s big day seemed to be unraveling fast. A decade out of domestic football is a long time, and suddenly Klinsmann cut a forlorn figure in the technical area of the cavernous Olympic Stadium.
Hertha scored a goal out of the blue though, and suddenly the hosts were back in it. When Mats Hummels’ inexplicable foul earned him a second yellow card, Hertha found themselves a goal down and a man up with the whole of the second half to play - the dark clouds had dispersed for Klinsmann.
Davie Selke thought he'd drawn Hertha level with an instinctive finish early in the second half, but VAR ruled it out and Hertha were never able to bring it level. Dortmund held on to win, but it was also something to build on for Hertha’s new management, which also includes the smart addition of Alexander Nouri, the former Werder Bremen coach, to Klinsmann’s backroom staff.
Reasons for hope
A decade is a long time away from the cut and thrust of club management, and Klinsmann will need to draw on the experience of Nouri, as well as his other assistants Harald Gämperle and Markus Feldhoff. Klinsmann's strength as a coach has always been in developing younger players and driving the group forward. There's every chance this experienced group of coaches can ease Klinsmann back in from the wildnerness, and move Hertha forward.
"We hoped for more and thought we had equalized after the break," Klinsmann said after the game. "We came back well after going 2-0 down, the team was desperate to give something. In the second half, we didn't create enough pressure to force the equalizer. The boys gave it everything, but couldn't land the decisive blow. We will have to do a lot of work in the coming weeks. We have to take it step by step."
The first step for Klinsmann is to move out of the Berlin hotel he's currently living in. He said he'd only packed enough clothes for four days when he was unveiled as Hertha's new coach this week. While his opening game was a defeat, there are positive signs for the future. The key to his success will be his work with Nouri, and whether their attributes compliment each other as well in practice as they do on paper.