After years of mismanagement, Hamburger SV is hoping experienced coach Dieter Hecking can lead the club back to the Bundesliga – and keep it there.
Hecking, respected across the league for his work at Borussia Mönchengladbach, Wolfsburg and Nuremberg, signed a one-year deal with Hamburg this week, though both sides hope he will stay for at least three.
If Hamburg clinches promotion from the second division next season, the contract automatically extends by a year to 2021, and then a further year after that if Hecking ensures the team survives its first year back in the top flight.
“If HSV had the aim of being a good second-division side, then I wouldn’t be here,” Hecking said Wednesday at his presentation.
In a way, he can’t lose.
Hamburg, once a giant in German soccer, has long been seen as a club in chaos amid a merry-go-round of coaching changes, player transfers and continuing unrest in the boardroom in recent years.
As one of the founding members of the Bundesliga in 1963, Hamburg took pride in the fact it was the last remaining team to have played in the league every season – Bayern Munich was only promoted in 1965. The team even went as far as displaying a clock counting the years, days, hours, minutes and seconds that Hamburg had been in the league.
But really it should have been counting down. After years of near misses, Hamburg was finally relegated amid chaotic scenes last May.
Christian Titz was supposed to lead it back to the Bundesliga but he was fired as coach on Oct. 23. Former Stuttgart coach Hannes Wolf then took over.
Wolf had Hamburg leading the second division but hopes of an immediate return to the top division were undone in the second half of the season. Hamburg slumped, claiming only three points in eight games without a win and losing deciding matches against Union Berlin, Ingolstadt and Paderborn.
It was widely seen as the promotion that Hamburg threw away. Both Union and Paderborn sealed their promotions, alongside second-division champion Cologne.
Wolf was told before the final game of the season that it was his last in charge. Sporting director Ralf Becker was also dismissed, despite leading the talks to appoint Hecking as coach. Jonas Boldt was appointed in his place.
“I was a bit surprised with the news from last week, but soccer is a business that moves fast,” Hecking said of the latest managerial change at Hamburg.
Hecking led Gladbach to fifth place in the Bundesliga last season, while he won the German Cup and finished second with Wolfsburg in 2014-15. Hecking spent 2½ years at Gladbach but had been told early on that his contract would not be extended.
“I wasn’t happy with end of my time in Gladbach, as I would have liked to have continued my work there,” Hecking said. “I didn’t think about going abroad at all, similarly with taking up a different role such as a sporting director. In the end, the HSV job and their ambitious aims became an appealing role to take over. As a result, here I am.”
But the 54-year-old Hecking faces arguably his toughest challenge at Hamburg, which faces another offseason of player departures and arrivals.
Lewis Holtby is leaving, with Brazilian defender Douglas Santos expected to follow. So far the club has signed Lukas Hinterseer and Jan Gyamerah from Bochum, David Kinsombi from Holstein Kiel, and Jeremy Dudziak from St. Pauli.
Relegated teams Stuttgart, Hannover and Nuremberg will be the biggest challengers for promotion next season, though clubs like Heidenheim, Holstein Kiel and city rival St. Pauli will also make life difficult.
Hecking, who also remembers happier days for the club, is already looking forward to it.
“I used to be a fan of Kevin Keegan and was drawn to this club as a young boy,” Hecking said. “HSV ranks highly among my whole family, and now I’m here. It’s great.”