Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Football Articles 1 – The Story of Hoffenheim

In an attempt to keep this blog updated as the next game I will be attending won’t be till the 7th March, I have got two features that I will use to “pad out” that haven’t been blatantly copied from other great Ground Travelling blogs. The first is publishing my articles that appear in various newspapers and magazines, all on the subject of the beautiful game.

Article: #1

First Appeared: SCAN News – Week 5, Lent Term

Date: 10th Feb 2009

“German upstarts Hoffenheim are a footballing model”

Now the transfer window has been slammed shut and clubs and economists alike take into account the money spent across the country, a story is developing in Germany that has, at least for this reporter, brought back my belief in the ‘beautiful game’. While all the talk today seems to be how much money a club can spend, such as £100m for Kaka or Tottenham Hotspur spending £48m alone in the recent transfer window, a club is taking the Bundesliga (Germany’s top division) by storm.

Yet like most stories today in football, money is involved. Little known TSG 1899 Hoffenheim were floating around the Verbandsliga (Germany’s 5th tier) in 1990, when ex player Dietmar Hopp invested in the club and became their financial backer. Hopp was now the co-founder of software firm SAP and began to invest in the team and by the 2000/2001 season they were in the Regionalliga. (Germany’s 3rd tier) Yet it was in 2006 when the club began to be really noticed, firstly by appointing ex Schalke manager Ralf Rangnick who admitted he felt he had been ‘abandoned’ by the Bundesliga side after the failure to win the league in 2006. This appointment along with the signings of ex Bundesliga players allowed the club to gain successive promotions firstly to the 2.Bundesliga in 2007 and then a 2nd place there in only their first season in that league allowed the club to enter the Bundesliga, Germany’s equivalent of the Premiership this season.

While Hoffenheim’s rise may seen the stuff of dreams, it got far better this season with their outstanding first season in the Bundesliga. While expected to fight against relegation this season, Hoffenheim have exceeded all expectations and found themselves finishing before the Winter Break top of the league and ‘Herbstmeister’ (Autumn Champion). This included heavy wins against Hamberg (3-0), Dortmund (4-1) and Hannover (5-2), all German heavy-weight teams. Hoffenheim also lost to Werder Bremen 5-4, in what many fans consider one of the greatest games in the Bundesliga.

Hoffenheim during the Winter Break also moved stadium to the 30,000 capacity Rhein-Neckar-Arena, which sold out for their 2-0 win over Cottbus which continued their great form. This is all the more amazing as Hoffenheim’s population is only 3,500. Hoffenheim’s success can be attributed to their signing policy, which unlike some clubs they try to avoid big ‘marquee’ signings and go for young, hungry players. Two of the major success stories this season have been Tobias Weis and Vedad Ibišević. Weis had been released by Stuttgart as a youngster before joining Hoffenheim in 2007. Now Hoffenheim’s first choice right winger and a national team call up to Germany in the bag, Weis seems to be going from strength to strength. More amazingly is the story of Ibišević, who until this season had been a typical ‘journey-man’ striker who floated around clubs and their reserves. Yet, it is Ibišević who leads Bundesliga scoring charts on 18 goals, 5 ahead of 2nd place and well ahead of regular strikers such as Luca Toni, Mario Gomez and Claudio Pizarro. While a cruciate ligament rupture may deny him the top scorer award this season, any repeat of this season’s form would establish him as one of Europe’s leading marksman.

Despite all of this, many German football fans and neutrals looking in, do not like Hoffenheim and would rather see another title rival such as Hamberg or Hertha Berlin win the league. They point to Hopp’s financial backing and also the fact that without his money, Hoffenheim would still be a mediocre team in the lower leagues at best. Other managers have also had their say, such as Freiburg’s Robin Dutt who after a defeat to Hoffenheim last season stated, “I wish this team would go up and then we can forget about this joke”. However, Hoffenheim must be congratulated for their success so far. They have not spend millions upon millions on players and wages, instead, buying hungry and young talent instead of big name stars. They also could not outspend clubs in the Bundesliga, with giants such as Bayern Munich, Dortmund and Werder Bremen all having more to spend. This contempt for little Hoffenheim may be as a result of jealously at their sudden and rapid success. However they finish this season, Bundesliga Champions or not, expect to hear more and more from them in the future. They may be playing a team near you in the Champions League next season...


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