Since the return of football in Germany Hertha Berlin have beaten Hoffenheim 3-0 away from home, smashed city rivals Union Berlin 4-0, recorded an impressive 2-2 draw away at third place RB Leipzig and beat Augsburg 2-0. They have began investing heavily recently in a bid to improve their fortunes and have surprised many with their form in the four games since the Bundesliga resumed.
Until Union’s promotion last summer Hertha were the sole flag bearers for the German capital in the Bundesliga and have not only never won the league, but have rarely been considered among Germany’s elite clubs. It is rare across Europe for a nation’s capital to not have a successful side, when you consider the fortunes of Real and Atlético Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham in London, PSG in Paris and numerous others. Could we be about to witness the emergence of a German football superpower in the capital?
This would be a change in fortunes from their relatively unsuccessful past. Hertha were invited into the inaugural Bundesliga season as champions of Berlin but struggled somewhat in the new format. They have notoriously struggled financially and don’t have a single Bundesliga title to their name, often dipping in and out of Germany’s top flight.
Their most successful seasons are considered to be the 1974/75 season where they finished runners-up to league winners Borussia Monchengladbach and the 1978/79 season where they got to the semi-finals of what was then the UEFA Cup. They did manage to qualify for the Champions League for the 1999/2000 campaign where they went out in the second group stage, before the competition’s change in format, and were often found in the early stages of the UEFA Cup in the early 2000’s. None of this has been enough however to establish the Berlin club as one of the ‘big clubs’ in Germany. They returned to the Bundesliga in 2013 following further financial difficulty but have remained there ever since and will be hoping their yo-yoing between divisions will be a thing of the past.
The takeover of Hertha was completed on June 27th 2019 and is the biggest takeover deal in German football history. The investment company Tennor Holding B.V bought a 37.5% stake in the club for €125m, with the future option of an additional 12.5%. The Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga have rules that require clubs to be at least 51% owned by fan membership clubs or registered associations, which means should the investment company take up their optional additional stake they will own as much of the club as they possibly can.
This investment into the capital’s biggest football club signified the beginning of the new era for Hertha Berlin, with everyone associated with the club hoping that investment brings success. The club are very much looking forward and hope to ruffle the feathers of Germany’s elite clubs, the new club motto of ‘the future belongs to Berlin’ emphasising the ambition.
Many took notice of Hertha when they sparked into life in the January transfer window, signing Krzysztof Piatek for €24m from AC Milan and highly rated Brazilian prospect Matheus Cunha from RB Leipzig for €18m. The truth is however, the rebuild had already begun.
Hertha had already acquired 22 year-old Belgian live-wire Dodi Lukebakio from Watford for €20m in 2019 as well as spending €25m on 23 year-old central midfielder Lucas Tousart from Lyon in January 2020 who was immediately loaned back to his former club. These big money signings, along with the two attacking recruits in January and some astute deals, including free agent Dedryck Boyata at centre-back and Marko Grujic on loan from Liverpool, have shown that Hertha are looking to build a side to challenge domestically and get into Europe.
In terms of facilities, the club are in a strong position to make the next step. They play their home games at the Olympiastadion, a stadium purpose built for the infamous 1936 Olympics synonymous with Hitler’s reign. They have resided here since 1963, the debut Bundesliga season, and can boast the second largest capacity stadium in Germany, second only to Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, with a capacity of 74,475.
They have a contract with the Olympiastadion until 2025 but they have no plans to renew the contract, instead looking to build a new stadium ready for the contract’s end. Hertha fans cannot fill a stadium with such a large capacity and their owner’s would prefer a stadium where a better atmosphere can be generated and the stadium is full. The proposed ‘Hertha Fussballarena’ is still planned to have an impressive 55,000 capacity so is by no means a huge downsize, but should give the Hertha fans a greater feeling of being at home, no longer being the only Bundesliga club to not own their own stadium. 55,000 is also 5,000 more than Hertha’s average home attendance so gives the club a chance to grow its fanbase. If fans feared that the new stadium plans would put a halt to their side’s progress on the pitch then they need not worry, with the club’s owners assuring supporters that the funds for the new stadium and the transfer funds will be two separate pots of money.
Hertha made the bold move of appointing Bruno Labbadia as their new manager during the season break following Jurgen Klinsmann’s controversial 10 week spell in charge which culminated in him announcing his departure through a Facebook post. Labbadia is an experienced coach, particularly in German football but has a record of moving clubs regularly, never managing a club for longer than three years in his 17 year managerial career. The Hertha board, players and fans will be hoping for a positive spell under the former Bayern Munich striker and if results so far are anything to go by, this could well be a match made in heaven.
Although the season so far had been underwhelming, Hertha’s form since the return of football and new management has been inspired and they will be hoping to finish the season strongly to put the building blocks in place for a strong 2020/21 season. With the form they are in and the sides around them struggling to gather momentum post-lockdown Hertha have a real chance of securing a Europa League qualification place, which would’ve seemed out of reach in March, sitting four points off with five games remaining.
A strong end of season, a new stadium on the horizon and owners who seem willing to spend to improve the side, it is an intriguing time for Hertha Berlin. Will Germany follow the trend of other leagues and have a successful side from the capital? Can Hertha really challenge the traditional top clubs in Germany? The next few years will tell. There’s a famous German joke that Berlin will finally have it’s new airport before Hertha have a good side, making reference to the still unopened Berlin airport that was meant to begin operation in 2012. However, the wait for a good Hertha side may finally be over.