Former European Cup winners in trouble
5 March ~ The only club to have played in all 51 seasons of the Bundesliga, Hamburg, are in serious danger of relegation after a disastrous domestic campaign. Staying in their current 16th place would mean an end of season play-off to avoid the drop. The club's rapid decline would appear to be unexpected, given that they were seventh last year, just outside the European places. But they also struggled in 2011-12, finishing 15th. An extremely high turnover of managers has certainly not helped.
Thomas Doll, in charge from 2004 to 2007, was the last to spend two complete seasons in the job. Since he left the club has had eight full-time coaches.
They started the season with Thorsten Fink, who was dismissed after collecting only four points from the first five games having spent less than a year in charge. He was replaced by Bert van Marwijk, who lost his job last month after a 5-0 thrashing against Bayern in the DFB-Pokal followed by losing 4-2 against bottom-place Eintracht Braunschweig, their sixth successive league defeat. Between that loss and Van Marwijk's dismissal, the sporting director Oliver Kreuzer claimed: "There were unbelievable mistakes on the pitch, so it is not so much that we have a problem with the coaching position, but we must see what we can do. And our coach has to be judged above all else on results."
Felix Magath, scorer of the goal that won the European Cup for Hamburg in 1983, was expected to be hired, but indecision resulted in him distancing himself from the post by claiming that "an honest restart" was not possible with "too many old forces" behind the scenes. Instead Hamburg opted for Mirko Slomka, who was sacked in November by Hannover, a club he had steered clear of the drop in 2011. Slomka's experience of a relegation battle was cited by Kreuzer when announcing the appointment and the new coach did not shy away from addressing the worst case scenario. "I am looking forward to the challenge and will give my full energy to maintain the Bundesliga status with this team. Should we not stay in the league, I am ready for Bundesliga 2."
He inherits a team that offers a guarantee of goals at both ends, as Hamburg tend to win or lose by a big margin. Their season could be typified by their two clashes with Borussia Dortmund, who they lost 6-2 against in September but beat 3-0 in Slomka's first game in charge recently. Defeats include a 5-3 loss against Bayer Leverkusen, plus 3-0 at home to Schalke and away at Hoffenheim. They also thumped Eintracht Braunschweig 4-0, Hoffenheim 5-1 and Nuremberg 5-0.
They have a great chance to pull away from trouble with their next three games all against clubs immediately ahead of them, Eintracht Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Stuttgart, although defeat to these sides may leave Hamburg cut adrift. Much depends on the form and fitness of their captain and talisman Rafael van der Vaart, who missed a chunk of the season with a ligament tear sustained on international duty in November. If they fail to find any consistency or defensive solidarity, they will finally bow out of the top flight after a 51 year residency. Scott Johnson