Bundesliga 2: Daniel Thioune's Hamburg appointment historically significant

It is easy to forget with all of the recent sporting issues that Hamburger Sport-Verein (HSV) are one of the biggest clubs in Germany. The former European Cup winners and six-time German champions have an enormous fan base and, with nearly 60,000 capacity, one of the biggest stadiums in the land. They are perhaps the biggest sleeping giant in German football today.

That Hamburg fired Dieter Hecking and appointed a new head coach after failing to win promotion back to the Bundesliga is no surprise, such is the consistency of the club’s turmoil in recent years. However, the appointment of Daniel Thioune is a groundbreaking moment of history in German football. 

Diversity not just in words

A German-born Black man in charge of HSV matters. It matters in a country where racism remains an issue and where Black coaches are still rare. Thioune told German football magazine 11 Freunde in September 2019 that while he knew the color of his skin would not make life easier for him, he also knew it would not stop him from achieving. Already, that much is clear and while Thioune’s opportunity at Hamburg comes as a result of his ability as a coach not his skin color, the appointment remains an example of diversity in action rather than in conversation.

Were he to be the coach to take Hamburg back to the top flight, it would be a seismic achievement. Not just because of the color of Thioune’s skin, but also because Thioune will have succeeded at a club where so many other young, talented coaches have failed. The weight of Hamburg’s history and the power of the board and investors have been the undoing of so many promising names, such as Hannes Wolf, Christian Titz and even Bruno Labbadia. This club comes with baggage.

“I’ve learned that in life every step must be taken and sometimes each one takes longer… It showed me that even when the road is a little bumpy, I can still take it,” Thioune told DW in a 2019 interview.

A new direction

Perhaps that is going to change, though. Jonas Boldt, Hamburg’s chairman of sport and former Leverkusen sporting director, has made it clear that club is moving into an era of developing from within.

“The financial means have not improved, and so we need to find other and creative solutions,” Boldt said recently about squad planning. 

The club’s decision to focus on development may well be a decision made more out of necessity than choice, but it could be exactly what Hamburg need to avoid further embarrassment and to make their fourth head coach in the last two years the right one.

Knowing Hamburg though, that might be wishful thinking. Many have come with grand plans and most have left with their heads bowed in defeat – and HSV in the same state of instability they found the club in. Thioune though, might actually be different.

Menschenfänger

In German, the word Menschenfänger is often used to describe people whose belief and drive are so strong that others are caught up in them and want to follow. Jürgen Klopp is the man most often associated with this term, but there are others – and Thioune is one of them.

At his opening press conference with HSV, he spoke of humility, empathy, a willingness to learn from mistakes and how “it’s about work not talk.” This all sounds very generic, but Thioune’s record shows it to be true. His language reflects his work, and combined with an effective and successful style of play, this can make a difference.

Impressive promotion run

With Hamburg’s ill-timed end of season collapse costing them the chance of promotion, it is clear that much is wrong with the mindset of the club. Thioune arrives having guided an Osnabrück side on modest means to promotion and a stable mid-table finish. Most impressively though, in that promotion run he generated a confidence in his team that was unerring.

Deutschland Osnabrück | VfL Osnabrück | Daniel Thioune (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gentsch)

Daniel Thioune guided Osnabrück from the third division to Bundesliga 2 this past season

In the first half of the promotion year, Osnabrück avoided defeat after going a goal down seven times, going on to win most of those games. Down the stretch, they secured promotion and the third-division title before the end of the season thanks to a remarkable run of seven straight wins. Thioune’s ability to adapt in-game bodes well, as does his relationship with 29-year-old assistant coach Merlin Polzin, who leaves Osnabrück to join HSV with him. Polzin has been heralded as the latest, young coaching mastermind in Germany.

Vertical game

On the pitch, the pair will bring a more vertical style of football than has been on show in Hamburg in recent years. Thioune stressed at his first press conference as HSV head coach the importance of “working brutally hard against the ball.” Both pose intriguing questions about the current squad and the players Hamburg may recruit in the future.

Thioune won’t have to wait too long to stand on the sidelines again. When he does, he might glance at the tattoo on his left forearm that includes a quote from the film ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’: “Don’t ever let some­body tell you, you can’t do some­thing.” 

As a Black man who grew up in Germany, who made it into professional football through amateur leagues and not an academy, who became a first-team coach after years of work at the youth level, to now be the head coach of Hamburg is proof that Thioune has overcome more than most.



Daniel Thioune: Hamburg appoint first German-born Black coach

Daniel Thioune is the new Hamburg coach, the 2.Bundesliga club announced on Monday.

Thioune, who has signed a two-year deal, takes over from Dieter Hecking, who left Hamburg by mutual consent last week after just a year in the job following the club’s disastrous end to the season, which saw them miss out on promotion back to the top-flight.

The 45-year-old becomes the first black coach in Hamburg’s history and joins from Osnabrück, where he became the first German-born head coach in any of Germany’s top three leagues. Thioune counts Julian Nagelsmann among his contemporaries with the pair having studied on the same football coaching course together.

“I’ve seen a few more hurdles than others,” Thioune said last year in an interview with DW. “The color of my skin might have played a role in not getting over some hurdles but whether or not that’s true I don’t know.

“I’m a clear decision maker. I would rather put my neck on the line for something I did rather than something I didn’t do,” he adds.

The mission for Thioune is clear: get Hamburg promoted. The six-time German champions have been wallowing in the second tier since 2018, but have turned to a man that led Osnabrück to the third division title in 2018-19, earning him the coach of the year award, before keeping them up in 2019-20.

“We want to develop individual players and thus our team as a whole,” Hamburg sporting director Jonas Boldt said.

“With Daniel Thioune, we have brought in a coach who has steadily developed a team in Osnabrück with manageable means.”

Thioune becomes Hamburg’s fourth coach in two years, but is relishing the opportunity: “For me, the job at HSV is a great challenge that I want to tackle with a lot of hard work, teamwork and heart.”

mds/mp



Hamburg 'embarrassing' as they blow Bundesliga promotion chance

In the end, a draw would have been enough to set up a promotion play-off against northern rivals Werder Bremen. A draw at home to Sandhausen, a bottom-half club from a village in south-west Germany with a population of 15,000.

Surely that wasn’t too much to ask from a squad with the third highest wage bill in the division, one greater than four Bundesliga clubs?

Evidently, it was. And the most damning part of Sunday’s 5-1 defeat, described by the club’s English Twitter account as “embarrassing”,  is that it wasn’t in the least surprising to anyone who has followed the fortunes of the once great Hamburger SV in recent years. To rub salt in the wound, the scorer of the fifth goal, Dennis Diekmeier, played for Hamburg for eight years and made 184 appearances without scoring.

The list of failures is long: The years of flirting with relegation from the Bundesliga finally culminating in a first ever drop into the second division, failure to secure promotion at the first attempt last season, humiliating home and away derby defeats to local rivals St. Pauli, disastrous late collapses against Fürth, Kiel and Stuttgart which saw Hamburg surrender second place, and a 95th-minute defeat to Heidenheim on the penultimate weekend, which meant that even the play-off spot was out of their hands going into the final day.

Helping hand not enough

They needed help from afar from champions Bielefeld, and they got even got that, as Heidenheim lost 3-0. But they still couldn’t do their own job, handing Heidenheim the playoff berth.

When HSV outsourced its professional football team into a limited company in 2014 – a process in German football known as Ausgliederung – fans were promised it would encourage levels of investment which would help the club establish itself among Europe’s elite. Instead, the once unimaginable prospect of Hamburg spending a third season in the second division is a sad, pitiful and, in the eyes of many, thoroughly deserved reality.

And yet the season actually started relatively promisingly. Under Dieter Hecking, HSV lost only one of their first 11 games, fired six past Stuttgart and quickly established their position as heavyweights at the top of the table. Off the pitch, as well, the Bakery Jatta affair saw players, staff and fans pull together in support of the then 21-year-old who had been wrongly suspected of having incorrect documentation. HSV were showing their very best side and were well on track. But, as so often in recent years, it didn’t last.

The blame game is back underway, but the list of candidates for the role of chief scapegoat is long. Players, coaches, sporting directors, chairmen and presidents have come and gone at a rate so dizzying in recent years that many in Hamburg have lost track.

Hecking and the hierarchy

Head coach Hecking arrived with a reputation for stability and authority, an elder statesman of German football management who has seen it all. But he’s surely never seen anything like this, and wasn’t blameless himself either. Hecking’s tactical adaptability has been questioned, while a series of media interviews before Christmas in which he discussed his potential future plans suggested his focus wasn’t entirely on the job at hand.

But should he even have been there in the first place? Hecking is widely considered to have been the choice of former sporting director Ralf Becker, not of the current, younger, incumbent Jonas Boldt, who had excelled as a progressive chief scout at Bayer Leverkusen. Boldt and Hecking are polar opposites in many ways but have been professional enough to work together, and the former has consistently backed the latter in public. But Boldt would surely have a different style of coach in mind.

Meanwhile, further up the hierarchy, Hamburg have stagnated in a self-perpetuating cycle of financial reliance on Klaus-Michael Kühne, the German businessman who has a 20.6 percent stake in HSV and whose associates dominate the boardroom. Kühne’s influence appears to grow in tandem with the crisis, and the crises keep getting worse.

One only has to look at the fates of Kaiserslautern, who announced last week that they would be filing for insolvency in the third division, 1860 Munich and others to see what can happen to fallen German giants who find themselves trapped in a downward spiral of sporting failure, financial mismanagement and unrealistic expectations. Schalke could yet be next.

Hamburg fans have forgiven their club for a lot in recent years, but can they ever forgive them for this?



Stuttgart and Hamburg: Bundesliga fallen giants' rocky road towards revival

Eleven German championships, six German Cups, European triumph, huge modern stadia and over 160,000 members between them – VfB Stuttgart and Hamburger SV might be located at opposite ends of the country, but they have a lot in common.

This season, however, they have been united by less positive traits, with both battling desperately to get out of Germany’s second division and return to the Bundesliga, where clubs of their size feel they naturally belong.

If only it was that simple. Myriad coaching changes, wild transfer policies, inconsistent performances and humiliating derby defeats – Stuttgart and Hamburg (HSV) have endured them all in a 2. Bundesliga season which has made up for its lack of quality with its predictably unpredictable drama.

It wasn’t meant to be this way when members of both clubs were convinced to vote to out-source their clubs’ professional football operations into limited companies – Hamburg in 2014, Stuttgart in 2017 – a common process in German football known as Ausgliederung.

The decisions were accompanied by promises that the moves would encourage greater investment and help propel the clubs into European football. Away days in Sandhausen, Osnabrück, Regensburg and Aue were not part of the plan.

Ultimately, after a final few dramatic twists and turns at the top, Stuttgart have all-but sealed promotion back to the top flight at the first attempt. Hamburg might well need a third run at it, with the last regular season round of fixtures on Sunday (table above).

But while they may be in different leagues next season, many of their shared problems will remain, and there will be other German giants taking note.

Stuttgart heading back to the big time – just

Thomas Hitzlsperger has experienced VfB Stuttgart’s historic highs and lows at first hand. In May 2007, it was his strike which set them on their way to their last Bundesliga title. And in May 2019, he was on the touchline at the Stadion an der Alten Försterei as sporting director, turning away in horror as Union Berlin took Stuttgart’s place in the Bundesliga.

After 84.2 percent of club members voted for the Ausgliederung in June 2017, local automobile behemoth Daimler invested €41.5 million in exchange for 11.75 percent of the club. Stuttgart were aiming to attract further investment in order to capitalize on their location in one of Europe’s industrial hotbeds and re-establish themselves at the top level.

But Hitzlsperger, a young and immensely popular figure who has since taken over as chief executive at the age of just 38, had more immediate concerns: returning to the Bundesliga.

Stressing continuity and stability, he installed the relatively inexperienced Tim Walter as head coach, before landing a significant coup when former Borussia Dortmund head scout and Arsenal sporting director Sven Mislintat also came on board. Even the popular former fan activist Claus Vogt replaced the unpopular Wolfgang Dietrich as president.

But despite an unbeaten start, Stuttgart were only third by Christmas. Hitzlsperger himself admitted that continuity and stability would have to be secondary if promotion was in doubt, and Walter was sacked.

His replacement, the American-born Italian Pellegrino Matarazzo, won four of his first five games, before the coronavirus break broke the rhythm. The familiar old problems re-emerged, and the pressure intensified, while suspicions arose that all was not well in the dressing room.

“The team looked scared, disjointed, hesitant,” says Phil Maisel, who covers the club for local papers Stuttgarter Nachrichten and Stuttgarter Zeitung. “The pressure to go up was huge in the city and it seemed to affect the players. They were so scared of making mistakes that they inevitably happened.”

A late season derby defeat to Karlsruhe was a case-in-point – but the subsequent wins over Sandhausen (5-1) and Nuremberg (6-1) showed what the team really is capable of. “We got lost along the way and tried out things which didn’t always work,” said Matarazzo. “Now we’ve found ourselves again and we’ve shown what’s possible.”

Hitzlsperger’s promotion project might not have been as stable as he would have liked, but it has achieved its primary aim: Stuttgart will almost certainly join Arminia Bielefeld in the Bundesliga next season. Whether Hamburg will follow, is another question altogether.

Patience running out in Hamburg

The people of Hamburg have forgiven their city’s biggest football club for a lot.

Like in Stuttgart, HSV fans were also promised glory and success when their club went through its own controversial Ausgliederung in 2014. Instead, they watched as the club flirted with relegation, succumbed to relegation, and then missed out on promotion.

As in Stuttgart, players, coaches, sporting directors, chairmen and presidents have come and gone at a rate so dizzying that many in Hamburg have lost track. But still they filled the Volksparkstadion on the banks of the Elbe – until the pandemic struck.

But patience is starting to wear thin as the season began to resemble Groundhog Day. Just like their previous campaign, HSV started strongly under Dieter Hecking, losing only one of their first 11 games, putting six past Stuttgart and establishing their position as heavyweights at the top of the table. Off the pitch, as well, the Bakery Jatta affair saw players, staff and fans pull together in support of the then 21-year-old who had been wrongly suspected of having incorrect documentation.

But again, just like last season, it didn’t last. Home and away derby defeats to local rivals St. Pauli were humiliating enough, while disastrous late collapses against Fürth, Kiel and Stuttgart since the restart have seen Hamburg surrender second place. After a 95th-minute defeat to Heidenheim last week, even the play-off spot is out of their hands going into the final day, and the blame game is back underway.

Hecking’s tactical adaptability has been questioned, while a series of media interviews before Christmas also had him discussing his potential future plans. 

Meanwhile, further up the hierarchy, Hamburg remain financially reliant on Klaus-Michael Kühne, the German businessman who has a 20.6 percent stake in HSV and whose associates dominate the boardroom.

“Kühne is the catalyst for many of Hamburg’s problems,” believes Daniel Jovanov, an author and journalist who has written a book on Hamburg’s slow fall from grace. “But there is no way of getting rid of him. The bigger the crisis gets at HSV, the more Kühne’s influence grows.”

Warning signs for German giants

A third season in the second division would accentuate that crisis to hitherto unseen levels, and the obsessive media coverage of Germany’s seventh biggest football club will intensify even further – but for how long? Hamburg fans have forgiven their club for a lot, but even their patience will have its limits.

One only has to look at the fates of Kaiserslautern, who announced last week that they would be filing for insolvency in the third division, 1860 Munich and others to see what can happen to fallen German giants who find themselves trapped in a downward spiral of sporting failure, financial mismanagement and unrealistic expectations. Schalke could yet be next. 

Down in Swabia, with promotion as good as certain, Thomas Hitzlsperger and his colleagues will hope that Stuttgart have averted the worst as they look to consolidate and build for the future in the Bundesliga. Up north in Hamburg, the worst could be yet to come.



Stuttgart and Hamburg: Bundesliga fallen giants' rocky road towards revivial

Eleven German championships, six German Cups, European triumph, huge modern stadia and over 160,000 members between them – VfB Stuttgart and Hamburger SV might be located at opposite ends of the country, but they have a lot in common.

This season, however, they have been united by less positive traits, with both battling desperately to get out of Germany’s second division and return to the Bundesliga, where clubs of their size feel they naturally belong.

If only it was that simple. Myriad coaching changes, wild transfer policies, inconsistent performances and humiliating derby defeats – Stuttgart and Hamburg (HSV) have endured them all in a 2. Bundesliga season which has made up for its lack of quality with its predictably unpredictable drama.

It wasn’t meant to be this way when members of both clubs were convinced to vote to out-source their clubs’ professional football operations into limited companies – Hamburg in 2014, Stuttgart in 2017 – a common process in German football known as Ausgliederung.

The decisions were accompanied by promises that the moves would encourage greater investment and help propel the clubs into European football. Away days in Sandhausen, Osnabrück, Regensburg and Aue were not part of the plan.

Ultimately, after a final few dramatic twists and turns at the top, Stuttgart have all-but sealed promotion back to the top flight at the first attempt. Hamburg might well need a third run at it, with the last regular season round of fixtures on Sunday (table above).

But while they may be in different leagues next season, many of their shared problems will remain, and there will be other German giants taking note.

Stuttgart heading back to the big time – just

Thomas Hitzlsperger has experienced VfB Stuttgart’s historic highs and lows at first hand. In May 2007, it was his strike which set them on their way to their last Bundesliga title. And in May 2019, he was on the touchline at the Stadion an der Alten Försterei as sporting director, turning away in horror as Union Berlin took Stuttgart’s place in the Bundesliga.

After 84.2 percent of club members voted for the Ausgliederung in June 2017, local automobile behemoth Daimler invested €41.5 million in exchange for 11.75 percent of the club. Stuttgart were aiming to attract further investment in order to capitalize on their location in one of Europe’s industrial hotbeds and re-establish themselves at the top level.

But Hitzlsperger, a young and immensely popular figure who has since taken over as chief executive at the age of just 38, had more immediate concerns: returning to the Bundesliga.

Stressing continuity and stability, he installed the relatively inexperienced Tim Walter as head coach, before landing a significant coup when former Borussia Dortmund head scout and Arsenal sporting director Sven Mislintat also came on board. Even the popular former fan activist Claus Vogt replaced the unpopular Wolfgang Dietrich as president.

But despite an unbeaten start, Stuttgart were only third by Christmas. Hitzlsperger himself admitted that continuity and stability would have to be secondary if promotion was in doubt, and Walter was sacked.

His replacement, the American-born Italian Pellegrino Matarazzo, won four of his first five games, before the coronavirus break broke the rhythm. The familiar old problems re-emerged, and the pressure intensified, while suspicions arose that all was not well in the dressing room.

“The team looked scared, disjointed, hesitant,” says Phil Maisel, who covers the club for local papers Stuttgarter Nachrichten and Stuttgarter Zeitung. “The pressure to go up was huge in the city and it seemed to affect the players. They were so scared of making mistakes that they inevitably happened.”

A late season derby defeat to Karlsruhe was a case-in-point – but the subsequent wins over Sandhausen (5-1) and Nuremberg (6-1) showed what the team really is capable of. “We got lost along the way and tried out things which didn’t always work,” said Matarazzo. “Now we’ve found ourselves again and we’ve shown what’s possible.”

Hitzlsperger’s promotion project might not have been as stable as he would have liked, but it has achieved its primary aim: Stuttgart will almost certainly join Arminia Bielefeld in the Bundesliga next season. Whether Hamburg will follow, is another question altogether.

Patience running out in Hamburg

The people of Hamburg have forgiven their city’s biggest football club for a lot.

Like in Stuttgart, HSV fans were also promised glory and success when their club went through its own controversial Ausgliederung in 2014. Instead, they watched as the club flirted with relegation, succumbed to relegation, and then missed out on promotion.

As in Stuttgart, players, coaches, sporting directors, chairmen and presidents have come and gone at a rate so dizzying that many in Hamburg have lost track. But still they filled the Volksparkstadion on the banks of the Elbe – until the pandemic struck.

But patience is starting to wear thin as the season began to resemble Groundhog Day. Just like their previous campaign, HSV started strongly under Dieter Hecking, losing only one of their first 11 games, putting six past Stuttgart and establishing their position as heavyweights at the top of the table. Off the pitch, as well, the Bakery Jatta affair saw players, staff and fans pull together in support of the then 21-year-old who had been wrongly suspected of having incorrect documentation.

But again, just like last season, it didn’t last. Home and away derby defeats to local rivals St. Pauli were humiliating enough, while disastrous late collapses against Fürth, Kiel and Stuttgart since the restart have seen Hamburg surrender second place. After a 95th-minute defeat to Heidenheim last week, even the play-off spot is out of their hands going into the final day, and the blame game is back underway.

Hecking’s tactical adaptability has been questioned, while a series of media interviews before Christmas also had him discussing his potential future plans. 

Meanwhile, further up the hierarchy, Hamburg remain financially reliant on Klaus-Michael Kühne, the German businessman who has a 20.6 percent stake in HSV and whose associates dominate the boardroom.

“Kühne is the catalyst for many of Hamburg’s problems,” believes Daniel Jovanov, an author and journalist who has written a book on Hamburg’s slow fall from grace. “But there is no way of getting rid of him. The bigger the crisis gets at HSV, the more Kühne’s influence grows.”

Warning signs for German giants

A third season in the second division would accentuate that crisis to hitherto unseen levels, and the obsessive media coverage of Germany’s seventh biggest football club will intensify even further – but for how long? Hamburg fans have forgiven their club for a lot, but even their patience will have its limits.

One only has to look at the fates of Kaiserslautern, who announced last week that they would be filing for insolvency in the third division, 1860 Munich and others to see what can happen to fallen German giants who find themselves trapped in a downward spiral of sporting failure, financial mismanagement and unrealistic expectations. Schalke could yet be next. 

Down in Swabia, with promotion as good as certain, Thomas Hitzlsperger and his colleagues will hope that Stuttgart have averted the worst as they look to consolidate and build for the future in the Bundesliga. Up north in Hamburg, the worst could be yet to come.