Hertha Berlin are done. The only question is how much worse it gets | Bundesliga
“Maybe it was my mistake,” pondered Pal Dardai, the Hertha coach, “that we were too busy working on the offensive side [of the game] during the week. Because defensively, there was nothing at all.”
Dardai, a club legend, is too hard on himself. Nobody blames him, parachuted in during the last knockings of this shambolic season as a hopeful punt, as was evidenced by the standing ovation he received from members when taking the stage at Sunday morning’s club AGM.
That very reasonable point of view notwithstanding, Dardai is left holding a team in name only, with a first relegation in 11 years looming after Friday night’s 5-2 hammering at Köln which could, and should, have been so much worse. “Without meaning to offend anyone,” said Steffen Baumgart, Köln’s coach, “5-2 is not a good result for the chances we had.” He went on to describe Oliver Christensen – the Hertha goalkeeper who was an overworked, furious ball of energy by the end – as “the best player on the pitch.”
From the eighth minute when Davie Selke – who joined in January from Hertha, naturally – soared imperiously to head home the opener, the visitors were in a spin. Remarkably, they recovered to lead against the run of play via goals from Lucas Tousart and Stevan Jovetic, both relics of a more ambitious, hopeful time. Yet they were losing again by half-time and Köln’s two second-half goals from Timo Hübers and Denis Huseinbasic gave them relatively little to show for their avalanche of attacks. “We left some gaps defensively,” Marvin Plattenhardt, the Hertha captain, told DAZN, with a lorryload of understatement. Florian Niederlechner’s summation that “Köln overran us in the second half” was nearer the mark. Overall, Baumgart’s men had 15 shots on target and hit the woodwork twice.
Hertha’s situation was made even more dire by Bochum’s gutsy 3-2 win over Augsburg on Saturday afternoon, but nobody in the RheinEnergieStadion the night before was in any doubt anyway. This Hertha team are done, vanquished. The only question now is how much worse it might get. Sorting out this mess of a playing squad (which will be no easy feat) is only the tip of a particularly angular iceberg.
Reports this week suggested Hertha receiving their operating licence from the DFL for 2023-24 was no fait accompli, with a high-interest €40m bond issued in 2018 due to be repaid in autumn. Werner Gegenbauer, their previous president, talked about the urgency of repaying it as early as 2020 but it never happened. New investor 777 Partners may need to step in with another hefty sum to calm the waters, though what that would mean for the club’s sporting future is another question.
It had been a tough week for Hertha even before the Köln defeat. Ingmar Pering, an influential board member (and erstwhile presidential candidate) resigned on Thursday after 15 years at the club. His resignation statement, leaked to Kicker, did not spare the regime led by the current president Kay Bernstein, rather than laying it all at the door of Gegenbauer and the recently exited major investor Lars Windhorst.
Pering called the deal with 777 “a hasty process by the presidency” which left no room “to consider alternatives”, meaning a refusal would have left “no real alternative to economic collapse and bankruptcy.” He went on to write that the Bernstein era was even more difficult to align himself with than Gegenbauer’s. “Now we don’t just have to deal with selfish power people who are only concerned about personal gain,” said Pering, “but also with collective incompetence.”
Bernstein was bold at the epic, seven-and-a-half-hour AGM, telling attendees that the project to build a new, more intimate and suitable stadium than the cavernous Olympiastadion was on track, and reiterating the plan to move forwards with youth academy products. Yet Tom Herrich, the managing director, confirming that there was indeed work to do to secure the licence for next season meant he provided the weightiest words from the stage all day.
After Stuttgart’s draw with Leverkusen on Sunday – Andreas “Zecke” Neuendorf, Hertha’s licensing director, broke news of Exequiel Palacios’ equaliser for Die Werkself during his own speech as a rallying cry – the Berlin club need almost a mathematical miracle to escape. Yet the real verdict had fallen on Friday night. If anyone was in any doubt about how deep the malaise runs at Hertha, Dardai’s team had already given the most eloquent statement possible on the matter.
At the top, Bayern Munich still hold their one-point advantage and were a much more familiar Bayern in their 6-0 demolition of Schalke at Allianz Arena. Restored to the lineup, Thomas Müller opened the scoring and batted away speculation over his future. “My heart is red,” he said. “Everyone’s is red, but mine might be a little redder.” As well as the loss Schalke suffered the blow of Marius Bülter’s fifth yellow card, which means their key player will miss next week’s crunch game against Eintracht Frankfurt (who secured a first Bundesliga win since mid-February, 3-0 over Mainz, after a testing week in which Oliver Glasner’s end-of-season exit was confirmed).
Borussia Dortmund stayed on Bayern’s tail with a 5-2 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach. It featured a first half as ruthless as Old Bayern (they were 4-0 up at the break) and a coda which was more Old Dortmund, as they carelessly shipped two late goals and needed a great Gregor Kobel save from Lars Stindl, who scored Gladbach’s second, to prevent the visitors from pulling it back to 4-3, before Gio Reyna tapped in with the game’s final kick. Despite the late “Stuttgart vibes” as Julian Brandt put it – referencing Dortmund’s late surrender of a lead against the 10-man strugglers a few weeks back – the mood is positive before what is likely to be a pivotal week: Bayern face Champions League-chasing Leizpig and BVB, fragile on the road of late, go to Augsburg.
The season’s real fairytale took greater shape as Union Berlin beat Freiburg 4-2 in an absolute thriller. Inspired by two-goal Sheraldo Becker, the home side led 3-0 before half-time. Goals back from Manuel Gulde and Vincenzo Grifo caused a wobble before Aïssa Laïdouni, on as a substitute, sealed it late on. The Köpenickers need a maximum of four points from their remaining two games to make sure of a debut Champions League campaign in September. “I’m so happy,” said their normally reserved coach Urs Fischer. “I can’t really believe it at the moment.” Their success was also lauded by his opposite number, Christian Streich, even if the loss strongly compromised his own team’s chances of a top-four finish.
Another huge blow for the fading Freiburgers was Dominik Szoboszlai’s late, late winner for Leipzig in Sunday’s game against Werder Bremen, in which they had trailed to a Leonardo Bittencourt sucker punch before Christopher Nkunku brilliantly created goals for Willi Orban and his fellow Hungarian in the dying minutes. It could also tweak the title race. With a four-point lead over Freiburg in fifth (and a far superior goal difference), Marco Rose and company now go to Munich with a desire for points rather than a desperate need for them.