Former Bundesliga club Hamburg leave everyone at a loss

Until a year ago, Hamburg were the only club never to have been relegated from the Bundesliga. Their failure to win promotion on first attempt has left fans and former stars like Felix Magath shaking their heads.

A day later and the disappointment is still palpable even amongst those who have, at the very least, geographically distanced themselves from Hamburger SV. After failing to bounce back from their first-ever Bundesliga relegation by securing an immediate return, the emotions remain raw.

"As a former player and head coach, I'm naturally disappointed, but that's not what it's about," Felix Magath told DW. During his 10-year spell with HSV in his playing days, Magath won three Bundesliga titles and two European titles. A two-year spell as team manager that began almost as soon as his active career ended in 1986, saw HSV win the DFB Cup for a third time.

The 65-year-old, who has since moved to Munich, is struggling to understand how "a club that has so many more resources at their disposal compared to other teams, failed to secure promotion back into the Bundesliga and instead allowed Paderborn to pass them." 

Magath didn't want to elaborate so soon after Hamburg's fate had been sealed following Sunday's 4-1 loss to Paderborn, but did pose the question: "Who will accept responsibility for the disaster?"

Higher interest rates?

Hamburg have hit a new low that those connected with the club from Felix Magath and the fans to the club's hierarchy could hardly have fathomed before the start of the season. In addition to the sporting low lights, the club are also having to cope with a large mountain of debt.

Currently at a reported €85 million ($95 million), the liabilities pile up with a turnover of close to €133 million. The annual loss of €20 million that was announced by the club only further obscures the balance sheet.

A former player, coach and team manager, Felix Magath is worried about Hamburg.

A major question now is how will the financial institutions, who have given HSV a long line of credit, will handle the situation.

"Will the banks stay quiet?" wondered Hamburg professor and sports economist Wolfgang Maennig.

Hamburg's inability to bounce straight back into the top tier will see their income from television rights drop even farther next season. As a result, the conditions now are different to when the contract for credit was signed.

"Banks usually respond to situations like this by imposing a risk premium which would increase the interest burden on the club," Maennig said.

An open wound

This season's budget of €28.5 million will also likely take a hit ahead of next season, while the squad will certainly undergo wholesale changes.

The club have already made it clear that midfielder Lewis Holtby and striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga will not be offered contract extensions.  Rising star Jann-Fiete Arp has already signed a deal with Bayern Munich. Meanwhile, head coach Hannes Wolf will be wondering whether he'll still be in the job come next season.

Spending a second season in the second tier is a catastrophe for a club who so proudly boasted of their ever-present status in the Bundesliga before the drop after the 2017-18 campaign. Missing out on promotion though, will also have a societal impact as Hamburg is currently without a top-tier team in any sport, though basketball side Hamburg Towers have clinched promotion for next season.

"This scenario is already an open wound for the city," Maennig said. It's a situation that will wear away at the already depleted levels of self-confidence for residents of Hamburg, because elite sport is part of the inner fabric of the port city.

In the eyes of the critics though, all is not lost despite Hamburg's sporting doldrums, at least in a football context.

"Hamburg will survive this phase and in three or four years will still exist and at some point be back in the Bundesliga," concluded Magath. The former player, head coach and general manager would know best, given that few know Hamburg as well as he does.

Bundesliga: From Keegan to Van der Vaart: Hamburg’s international stars

Rafael van der Vaart

Few footballers enjoyed the unconditional love of the HSV fans the way Rafael van der Vaart did. The Dutchman first touched down on the Hanseatic shores in 2005 and played an integral role in clinching European qualification in all three seasons of his first stint at the club. The second came after he'd spent time on the books at Real Madrid and Tottenham - when Hamburg were desperate for heroics.

Bundesliga: From Keegan to Van der Vaart: Hamburg’s international stars

Kevin Keegan

Like van der Vaart, Kevin Keegan was also brought in during a time of need when the club stumped up a substantial sum to sign him from Liverpool in 1977. A rocky start that saw him banned for eight weeks after knocking out an opponent soon gave way to strong form and success. "Mächtig Maus" (Mighty Mouse) as he was affectionately known, went on to win the Ballon d’Or twice in three seasons.

Bundesliga: From Keegan to Van der Vaart: Hamburg’s international stars

David Jarolim

David Jarolim took to the field 344 times in all competitions during a nine-year spell in the northern port city - more than any other non-German player. The Czech international joined in 2003 and experienced both highs and lows at the club. From finishing as high as third in 2006 and qualifying for Europe four years running to the club’s downward spiral following the turn of the decade.

Bundesliga: From Keegan to Van der Vaart: Hamburg’s international stars

Sergej Barbarez

Not many footballers can claim to have a street named after them. Barbarez can. The three-time Bosnia-Herzegovnian footballer of the year received the honor in his native Mostar. Barbarez is the club’s record foreign scorer with 76 goals in all competitions, which included a 22-goal haul in the Bundesliga that secured him the scoring title in 2001.

Bundesliga: From Keegan to Van der Vaart: Hamburg’s international stars

Ivica Olic

This list would not be complete without the player who scored Hamburg’s first-ever natural hat trick – three unanswered, consecutive goals in one half. Olic achieved the feat in a 4-1 win over Stuttgart in 2007, but will be remembered for much more having spent a combined three-and-a-half seasons in Hamburg over the course of two stints at the club.

Bundesliga: From Keegan to Van der Vaart: Hamburg’s international stars

Ze Roberto

Ze Roberto is a Bundesliga legend who left an impression on every club he played for during an illustrious career. Like at Leverkusen and Bayern Munich before, the Brazilian was a first-team regular during his time at Hamburg. Having been a winger in his early career, at HSV he played the role of midfield general whose calm presence balanced out the egocentric wannabes in the team.

Bundesliga: From Keegan to Van der Vaart: Hamburg’s international stars

Mehdi Mahdavikia

One of the most memorable Middle Eastern footballers of his generation, Mehdi Mahdavikia's 263 outings in all competitions only fall short only of Jarolim's on the list of Hamburg’s foreign appearance makers. The Iranian saw a loan deal made permanent by HSV as he went on to be named the club’s 'player of the year’ two years running in 2003 and 2004.

Bundesliga: From Keegan to Van der Vaart: Hamburg’s international stars

Heung-min Son

Son has a special place on this list given that he’s the only player to have come through Hamburg’s youth academy. The South Korean megastar moved from Seoul in 2008 and went onto become one of the club’s biggest talents of recent years. Unfortunately for the club, his rise to prominence coincided with a string of poor finishes that prevented HSV from holding onto his services for longer.

Bundesliga: From Keegan to Van der Vaart: Hamburg’s international stars

Vincent Kompany

The imprint that Vincent Kompany left on Hamburg looks somewhat like two feet planted on a springboard. The Belgian only made 51 appearances for HSV in all competitions, but still has kind words for the club that gave him his big break on the European circuit. The now three-time Premier League champion helped the club secure European qualification in his first season as a 20-year-old.

Bundesliga: From Keegan to Van der Vaart: Hamburg’s international stars

Mladen Petric

With a left-foot that boasted as much finesse as it did raw power, Petric scored some of the most memorable goals in Hamburg history during a four-year stint in the port city. Stunning free-kicks and first-time volleys were commonplace among the 61 goals he scored in 136 games in all competitions. The Croatian almost single-handedly fired HSV to the Europa League final in 2010.