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'It hurts, it's hard, it's not nice' — Hertha relegated

May 20, 2023

Hertha Berlin were relegated from the Bundesliga on Saturday following an injury-time equalizer by Bochum. Hertha coach Pal Dardai urged the club to focus on the future following three years of turbulence.

Deutschland Bundesliga Hertha BSC - VfL Bochum
Image: Engler/Nordphoto/IMAGO

An unmarked Keven Schlotterbeck seemed to hang in the air for an eternity before crashing a 94th-minute header into the back of the Hertha Berlin net.

The goal was scored at the flame end of the Olympic Stadium and sparked wild scenes in the away end. Schlotterbeck was mobbed in front of the few thousand fans that had made the cross-country journey to the capital from the Ruhr as flares were ignited.

The goal was crucial to Bochum’s own survival hopes, which as a result of that goal, remain in their own hands. The struggle for survival will go down to the final day, with Schalke, Stuttgart and Bochum all in the mix; one will stay up, another will head into the relegation playoff, the other will go down. 

There were chaotic scenes at the end as Keven Schlotterbeck's equalizer sent Hertha down.
There were chaotic scenes at the end as Keven Schlotterbeck's equalizer sent Hertha down.Image: IMAGO/Beautiful Sports

From Windhorst to 777: a road to ruin

But Hertha’s fate is already sealed. Lucas Tousart’s 63rd-minute goal had tilted the contest their way, raising hopes that an extraordinary escape under coach Pal Dardai was still on the cards. But Schlotterbeck’s towering header silenced the stadium; the game was up — the fans knew it, the players knew it, Dardai knew it. 

The reality of Hertha’s first relegation since 2009-10 was inescapable but the writing had been on the wall for months, long before Dardai was drafted in following the firing of Sandro Schwarz in April. It’s three years since American investor Lars Windhorst hailed the arrival of a new era for the club under the slogan "big city club” after an investment of €374 million ($410 million).

With Hertha no better off following the investment, Windhorst eventually sold to another American investment group, 777 Partners, and former ultra Kay Bernstein was elected as the club's president. But with reports that 777 breached the 50+1 rule, Hertha’s problems may only be beginning.

The humiliation attached to their relegation is compounded by the extraordinary success of their city rivals, Union Berlin, who could qualify for the Champions League on the final day and have established themselves among Germany’s top six. In less than four seasons Union have replaced Hertha as the German capital’s big city club — a trend that won’t reverse any time soon.

Pal Dardai could remain in his position into next season.
Pal Dardai could remain in his position into next season.Image: Luciano Lima/Beautiful Sports/IMAGO

Dardai’s future in Hertha’s hands

Dardai is believed to be considered internally as the ideal figure to galvanize the club in the second tier and bring them back up — but Dardai said his future is in the hands of the club.

“I work for Hertha, in what position we'll have to wait and see.” Dardai will submit a “written analysis” of how he sees the state of the club after the final game at Wolfsburg next weekend. "I am always honest. We will see how the club sees it," said Dardai, who is in his third spell in charge of the club.

“Hertha did not get relegated today, the performance was good,” a crestfallen Dardai said, reflecting on the problems he inherited. “Relegation is bad for everyone. We have to put it behind us, learn from our mistakes and then be proud again. It hurts. It is hard. It's not nice. But we have to work for the future now.”

Kevin-Prince Boateng was fighting back the tears after the game, admitting that he “needed a bit of time to think things over” regarding his future at the club. 

"I can't realize it yet,” the Berlin-born midfielder said. "It is just bitter, I love this club. I came here and I knew that not everything would be rosy. The fans are angry, disappointed and sad, that is completely normal. 

“I can understand them, I am a Hertha fan myself."