′Humility will be our biggest strength′: Hamburg begin new chapter in second division | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 02.08.2018
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'Humility will be our biggest strength': Hamburg begin new chapter in second division

Three months after their first-ever relegation from the Bundesliga, Hamburg begin a new chapter at home to Holstein Kiel. The fans expect immediate promotion, but coach Christian Titz is well aware of the difficulties.

When the black smoke from the Nordkurve finally cleared and the riot police and mounted officers had left the field, it fell to young goalkeeper Julian Pollersbeck to carry out the final act in Hamburg's long Bundesliga drama.

Having already discarded his gloves, the 23-year-old booted the ball up field. By the time it landed, the final whistle had blown and, despite a 2-1 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach, Hamburg were relegated from the Bundesliga for the first time.

"I love my Hamburg so much," sang 57,000 fans in blue, white and black, "even though times are often hard, I know this is where I belong." Later that night, after 54 years and 261 days, the famous HSV clock stopped ticking. Outside however, the world moved on. And Hamburg have had to move on, too.

On Friday evening, those supporters will return to the Volksparkstadion for the start of their club's first-ever season in the second division. The game against fellow northerners Holstein Kiel is sold out, all 25,000 season tickets have been sold and the club have even gained 7,500 new members, making HSV the fifth-largest football club in Germany.

Deutschland Fußball Bundesliga |Training Hamburger SV (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Bockwoldt)

HSV can still rely on fanatical support, despite relegation.

High expectations

And they all expect one thing: an immediate return to the Bundesliga. The financial and sporting gulf between Hamburg (and fellow relegated side Cologne) and the rest of the second division justifies the expectations. HSV and Cologne go into the season with playing budgets of €33 million ($38.3 million) and €24 million respectively. In comparison, most of their competitors will have to make do with half of that.

Both have managed to retain key players, too. In Hamburg, Dennis Diekmaier, Andre Hahn, Bobby Wood and Walace are gone, while Kyrios Papadopoulos and Albin Ekal are likely to follow. But coach Christian Titz has convinced top scorer Lewis Holtby to accept a wage cut and stay while Aaron Hunt has been made captain.

"It's not a given nowadays that players turn down millions in order to remain true to their club," Titz said. "But it's shown me how much they love this club."

Highly rated teenage talent Jann-Fiete Arp has also signed a contract extension until 2020, despite interest from Bayern Munich. Valued at €7.5 million, the 18-year-old is the most valuable player in the HSV squad and has already proved his worth with a delightful goal for the reserves in the fourth-tier Regionalliga Nord on Tuesday – but he will be back with the first team on Friday.

The retention of Arp is a key indication of Titz' philosophy as the 47-year-old looks to establish a more permanent link between the youth set up, which he has helped to revamp since arriving at the club in 2015, and the first team which was all too reliant on the recruitment of supposedly proven Bundesliga veterans.

"HSV's biggest problem in recent years has been the constant changing of coaches," he told German football magazine 11 FREUNDE, referring to the 17 men who have sat on the Hamburg bench over the past decade. "One coach wanted possession football, the next one wanted counterattacks. Transitions from youth team to first team were never implemented and the squad became imbalanced."

Whether Titz' diagnosis of HSV's footballing issues proves to be correct, remains to be seen – his integration of players from his table-topping reserve team in the final weeks of last season did give Hamburg unexpected hope and won them some sympathy, but it was too little too late.

Fußball Bundesliga Hamburger SV - VfB Stuttgart (picture-alliance/dpa/C. Charisius)

The retention of teenage superstar Jann-Fiete Arp (left) is a huge coup for HSV.

Problems to solve off the field

Off the pitch, the issues are still deep and numerous. Hamburg are burdened by €105 million of debt and remain reliant on the support of Klaus-Michel Kühne, the 81-year-old billionaire backer who controls 20.59 percent of the club's professional football division and has invested an estimated €140 million in the club since 2010.

After the club refused to increase Kühne's shareholding to above 24.9 percent the logistics mogul renewed his threat to withdraw his financial support. Still, new club president Bernd Hoffmann insisted that Hamburg were able to secure a playing license for the second division without Kühne's help, saying it was "proof of HSV's independence and capacity to act; an important signal both internally and externally."

But such issues will be put to the back of everyone's minds come 20:30 CET on Friday when fans' thoughts turn back to the pitch and how to out-sing the expected 10,000 traveling fans from Kiel.

"We won't have a single easy game in this division," Titz warned. "Humility will be our biggest strength in the coming months."

Deutschland, Hamburg: Der Trainer des Hamburger SV, Christian Titz (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Molter)

The only way is up! But coach Christian Titz has his feet on the ground.

Derby day

Hamburg only won eight games last season but now they'll be expected to win almost every week – and in one week in particular: on 30 September, local rivals St Pauli are the visitors at the Volksparkstadion for the first Hamburg derby since 2011. HSV have five games to prepare for that particular challenge.

And what's happened to that clock, by the way? It continues to tick along, but it's been adjusted somewhat. When Friday's game kicks off, it will read 130 years and 308 days since the club's foundation in 1887. This is just the latest chapter.

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