Berlin is Germany’s largest city and in most cases this would be enough for the relevance of football. Most of the best clubs in the world are located in the largest cities in Europe. London, Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, Paris and Manchester have some of the most transcendent teams in the game.
Berlin is a center of German culture, but not a center of German football. Hertha Berlin, the city’s largest club, has only won four national trophies in its history, most recently in 2002.
They are far behind clubs like Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, which have become Germany’s most recognized and successful teams in recent years.
How does a club change that? How can Hertha Berlin push for relevance internationally and locally? What can you do to dream of escaping a largely mediocre story?
This summer, investor Lars Windhorst announced that he would pump a further 150 million euros into the club. This happened after investing € 224 million last year. The goal? To break Hertha out of its shell and move it to a place the club has never seen.
« Berlin is actually known all over the world, but the football club still isn’t, » said sports director Arne Friedrich, « and this is also one of the main goals for all of us: to do some work and to get our football club into the Bring world. «
Hertha’s quest for more relevance began last season. The club hired a brave manager by reaching out to legendary Jurgen Klinsmann and putting the club in a brighter spotlight than it had seen in quite some time.
But that spotlight only showed how far Hertha was behind their rivals. Klinsmann only lasted 10 weeks before bizarrely stepping down, stating that he did so due to a lack of investment by the club.
This claim came despite the fact that Hertha spent more winter than any other European club, hiring players like Krzysztof Piatek from AC Milan and Matheus Cunha from RB Leipzig.
After Bruno Labaddia had stabilized the ship in order to keep the apparently relegated club in the Bundesliga, Hertha made some big steps again this summer.
Despite the Europe-wide coronavirus pandemic handcuff teams, Hertha was able to sign a new starting striker Jhon Cordoba and a new goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow and at the same time loan midfield with Matteo Guendouzi, who was loaned from Arsenal.
It was part of what Friedrich sees as a badly needed remodel. The club changed from long-time regulars Per Ciljan Skjelbred, Vedad Ibisevic and Soloman Kalou, and in a difficult transfer market.
« We are very, very blessed to have an investor and he has helped us a lot. It was actually a bit of a fairy tale. Our situation is definitely much better than that of most clubs, but it is also related to some problems, « said Friedrich.
« When we got to the transfer window, we were obviously looking for players and everyone knew about our investor.
« When we went into negotiations, some prices were insane. You have players that you are looking for and they have asked for double the money it’s worth. That doesn’t make it easy for us.
He added: « Negotiations are sometimes very, very fun, but in the end we didn’t give in. We made very, very careful decisions and I think we’re very, very happy with the players we have. «
But transfers are only part of the puzzle. The commercial aspect of this sport plays a major role, especially as Bayern continue to develop into a global giant that only a few clubs in the world can reach.
Like Bayern and Hoffenheim, Hertha is studying American partnerships, says Friedrich. It is important for the club to develop its reputation outside of Germany, and in two ways: partnerships or success in the field.
The latter has been missing so far. These signings have taken some time and these departures are having a big impact.
Hertha finished 13th in nine games. Place in the Bundesliga after winning only twice against Union Berlin the whole season before the derby on Friday. You have come close to competitors like Bayern and RB Leipzig, but so far the new Hertha looks very similar to the old Hertha.
« We put pressure on ourselves because we don’t meet our expectations, » says Friedrich. « Of course the media, the news and everyone is likely to put pressure on our shoulders but I think we are professionals, the players, the coaches, the management and we know how to deal with pressure. « .
« In the end, we can only talk so much. We can explain things, but in the end we have to show it in the field. «
He added, « Inconsistency is still there. If you couldn’t see talent in our field we can think about difficulties, but I think we just need to focus for 90 minutes and so I’m pretty, pretty optimistic that things will change. «
Your city rivals Union Berlin have exceeded and are currently in sixth place. The game on Friday can therefore serve as a stepping stone for Hertha and help start a season that did not start optimally.
And before Hertha can claim to be one of the largest clubs in Germany, it must first assert itself as Berlin’s largest club by defeating a local rival.
« The expectations of us in Berlin are high, » says Friedrich. « We’re the bigger club here. We are Hertha Berlin. And usually our expectation is nothing more than a win on Friday, but we respect the performances.
« I think the coach and the team work very well for Union Berlin. You did a great job, but in the end it is entirely up to us how we behave. I think in general we have a better team, we have better players. We just have to show it. «
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