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Hanover in Europe

August 18, 2011

Despite mounting a consistent assault on the Bundesliga summit last season, Hanover 96 embark on their first European campaign in 19 years as a surprise package.

Hanover players celebrate Jan Schlaudraff's goal against Hoffenheim.
Hanover have kicked off their season with a winning mentalityImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The concept of surprise dictates that once the unexpected has occurred, it should cease to be such a bombshell. The more repetitive an event becomes, the less impact it tends to have. How long it takes for something to completely lose its shock value, however, is a matter of debate.

In Hanover 96's case, a second season of challenging for the Bundesliga title will still come as a surprise to many. If they continue to make a habit of it, however, a Hanover championship tilt may well become an expected occurrence in German football.

Against all expectations, Hanover appear to be picking up where they left off at the end of last season, with technically astute and intelligently resolute performances. This continuity is reflected in the team sheet: each starting 11 has so far been composed exclusively of players who finished with the club last season.

"We had a great season last year and it was a big surprise for us too that we finished in fourth after almost getting relegated the season before. Because of that we’re very happy with the team we have and the players that performed last season," Alex Jacob, media director at Hanover 96, told Deutsche Welle.

Prudent spending

Coach Mirko Slomka and Sporting Director Jörg Schmadtke made a number of pre-season signings, but with an eye on depth rather than a shake-up of the first team. Despite capturing left-back Christian Pander from Schalke, central midfielder Henning Hauger from Stabaek, Polish striker Artur Sobiech from Polonia Warsaw and Austrian goalkeeping prodigy Samuel Radlinger during the summer, Hanover is starting out with what it knows best. This appears to be a line-up consisting of players that fought hard to secure a spot in the Europa League.

Mirko Slomka
Slomka is happy with his team and his new summer signingsImage: dapd

"We have some new players but Pander and Sobiech were injured in pre-season so they won't be featuring for a while," said Jacob. "We also have Henning Hauger but he is a defensive midfielder and Mirko Slomka is very happy with the job Sergio Pinto and Manuel Schmiedebach did for us last year in a very important area of the team so we'll stick with that midfield partnership. Henning will get his chance, maybe not starting in the first team to begin with, but he'll be an important player for us."

Hanover's appearance in Europe is surprising - or at least will be for the opponents who lie in wait for them. It's been 19 years since the club was last involved in European competition - an absence during which the club dropped to the fourth tier of German soccer before slowly clawing its way back up to the top.

Earning the right to face Sevilla FC in the UEFA Europa League two-leg playoffs is not only a reward for last season's exploits but for the almost two-decade long journey back from obscurity.

"We managed to make a big turnaround and we're moving in an entirely different direction," Slomka told reporters at a recent press conference.

The UEFA Europa League trophy.
Hanover's Europa League campaign could reap rewardsImage: AP

Time will tell how Hanover's European adventure will affect them. Depending on the result over two legs against Sevilla, the 2006 and 2007 Europa League champions, Hanover could find themselves with at least six months of extra fixtures - should they make it into the group stage. Should they qualify for the knockout rounds, Europe could become a distraction well into next spring.

Busy season ahead

It could be argued that the club was able to maintain its top-four challenge last season in part due to the fact that they crashed out of the German Cup in the first round, back in August 2010, to amateur side SV Elversberg, leaving them to concentrate on the league. This season could be a lot busier for Hanover, which is where Slomka's summer recruitments will come in handy.

"Of course, to challenge for the Bundesliga, German Cup and Europa League we needed more players," said Jacob. "We indentified that we needed more quality players this summer with international experience, knowing that we would be in Europe and fighting on three fronts. This is a big challenge for us, but we have quality in the team and on the bench.

Hanover players celebrate
Hanover want Europe to become a regular thingImage: AP

"The team is ready for Europe but we have to see how far we get," he added. "It would be normal to go out to a top team like Sevilla but it is our goal and our wish to go further."

However far this European adventure takes them, the risk that a prolonged Europa League campaign may hobble their Bundesliga challenge should be offset against the advantages of actually playing continental soccer. Experience, euphoric nights for the supporters and players, and economic remuneration are all positive by-products of European competition.

Harnessing Europe's power

Should Hanover set off on a Europa League run, it can only benefit the club in the long term, both on and off the field. Players who have tasted Europe develop a hunger for it and a team motivated to experience more will strive harder to achieve that. The more campaigns the club is involved in, the more money it makes, the better players it can sign and so on and so on.

So far, Hanover looks to have maintained the desire and team spirit which drove them on last season. Add a few heady nights of European success to the mix and those observers who were scratching their heads over a team that “overachieved” last season could be left wondering just what the hell is going on.

And if coach Slomka is to be believed, Hanover's big adventure is only just starting. "The Champions League is the ultimate goal. You need to have goals to aim for," he said.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann