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Tough Start

August 15, 2011

Hamburg are one of many Bundesliga teams putting faith in young players, but youth has thus far not equalled success. Their coach and top striker told Deutsche Welle what the team needs most is time.

Hamburg players looking tired
Hamburg's senior players haven't been able to right the shipImage: dapd

Out with the old, in with the new - that was the motto this summer at Hamburg. The club released veterans like Ruud van Nistelrooy and Joris Mathijsen and signed up a host of youngsters, including Chelsea youth products Jeffrey Bruma and Michael Mancienne. But for the first two weeks of the season, it’s been the same old story.

Hamburg knew they needed to be sharp from the start with two of their first three matches being away games in Dortmund and Munich. So the disappointment was all the greater at Saturday's 2-2 draw in their home opener against newly promoted Hertha Berlin.

If anything the result was lucky. Hertha got off nearly three times as many shots on goal, hit woodwork four times and were denied a fairly clear penalty.

So have the Northern Germans erred in imitating Dortmund, last season's youngest-ever Bundesliga chapions?

"It's not like we want to copy Dortmund one-to-one," Hamburg coach Michael Oenning told Deutsche Welle. "We're orienting ourselves around what's best for us at the moment, and that's legitimate. But we'll be creating our own individual style."

Thus far, the word to describe the style Hamburg have presented is lethargic. The Hamburg newspapers rightly interpreted Saturday's draw as a major disappointment. The city's Morgenpost called it a "lucky point for a weak HSV;" the Abendblatt described the team’s showing as "desolate."

That pressure threatens to trap the club in some all-too-familiar vicious circles, before their youth drive has been given a fair chance.

Inhibiting Expectations

Hamburg are one Germany's wealthiest and most successful clubs, and the only one to have played in the current first division every year since its inception in 1963. But in recent years, the only constant has been lack of continuity.

Petric scores penalty
Petric (right) has been Hamburg's Mr. Reliable since joining the club in 2008Image: dapd

It's a measure of how fast the revolving door has spun that striker Mladen Petric is considered one of the team's mainstays although he's only been in Hamburg since the summer of 2008.

He says public pressure for success is part of what needs correcting.

"If every problem gets discussed publically, and if every day as a player you get asked about various topics other than football when you arrive at the stadium, it's clear you're concentration will suffer," Petric told Deutsche Welle. "At some point, you have to have peace and quiet so you can work in peace."

Petric again showed his value on Saturday against Hertha, provoking and converting a penalty. But the 30-year-old Croatian is is not sure he wants to extend his contract with the tumultuous club.

"I hope that we can get a bit of continuity and that the coach will be given time," Petric said before the match. "But there's the issue of pressure again. You can only give the coach time if you don't build up too much pressure, and if people don't expect him to come in third in his first year."

Hamburg's coach and sports director
Oenning, l, and sports director Frank Arnesen need time they may not getImage: dapd

Curiously, given that Hamburg are going for a major reboot, Oenning was an assistant to predecessor Armin Veh, who lasted less than a year in Hamburg. The new man in charge is not making any predictions about where Hamburg will finish, let alone guaranteeing a spot in international competition.

"First we have to see where we stand and win some games," Oenning said. "After that, we can formulate some season goals. But it would be premature to talk about Europe."

After Saturday, even that sober assessment appears to be an understatement.

Positives and negatives

One of the few bright spots has been 19-year-old Korean forward Heung-Min Son, who curled in a delightful shot from outside the penalty area for Hamburg's second goal against Hertha.

"We have high hopes - look at the ease and joy with which the way he plays football," Oenning praised. "The Bundesliga can look forward to a great player."

Heung-Min Son
Son could be quite a findImage: dapd

On the down side, Hamburg were rarely able to string more than two passes together in midfield, and their defense, which conceded Hertha's equalizer two minutes from time, looked positively punch-drunk at the end.

"If you let twelve experienced players go, you can't assume you'll keep on going and competing for titles," Petric admitted. "It’s going to take time, but the club will take it."

Those are positive words from a veteran player who knows the importance of saying the right things to journalists. The truth, as Petric might well admit privately, is that Hamburg have one of the most impatient club cultures in all of Germany.

The immediate task is to try to sneak a point next week against Bayern and, at very least, win at home seven days later against Cologne, who have been dreadful thus far too.

If they fail, the demanding local media and frustrated club supporters could begin making mincemeat out of these young Hamburgers.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Matt Hermann

Mladen Petric was interviewed by Marc Friedrich, and Michael Oenning by Joscha Weber.