The last act in the still almost full Olympic Stadium before the masses left summed up the whole evening in an almost frightening way. In the western part of the field, near the center line, Tim Walter gathered his team around him. The Hamburger SV coach was surrounded by his players. The circle they formed looked almost like a heart with a little imagination.
At Hertha BSC, on the other hand, signs of dissolution were noticeable. A few players disappeared straight into the basement of the stadium, captain Dedryck Boyata, last as always, as one of the first in front. Others stood together in small groups. Linus Gechter, only 18 years old and still a Ur-Herthaner, sat on the substitutes’ bench and stretched his legs, exhausted in body and mind.
A team with heart against a collection of individualists: That’s how it was in the game itself that the second division team from Hamburg won 1-0 (0-0).
Nothing is decided yet. After the first relegation meeting, the Berliners repeatedly pointed out that there was a break. “Everything is still open,” said Felix Magath, Hertha’s coach, for example. “It’s not like we’re going to Hamburg without a chance.”
Hertha are left with the second leg on Monday, another 90 minutes to set things right. But all references to it sounded more dutiful than genuinely convinced. The impact of the defeat went far deeper than the narrow result would have suggested. After all: The Berliners will certainly not have to suffer under the weight of expectations in the second leg. Nothing is expected of them anymore.
Hertha’s fans held out long after the final whistle, especially those in the east stand. Perhaps they were waiting for the team to thank them for their loud support. But nobody came. Only when the ranks had thinned did Niklas Stark appear. After seven years at Hertha, the game against HSV was his last home game at the Olympic Stadium. Stark’s contract will not be renewed. An empty beer mug flew past him onto the tartan track, but otherwise there was a lot of applause for the former national player, who was not even officially adopted by Hertha.
The fact that apart from Stark no player went into the curve, “I’m a bit surprised now,” said coach Magath at the press conference. It might not have been the only irritation on this frustrating evening. Magath sat in his seat, apparently apathetic, most of the time – as if he had only now realized what he was actually getting himself into.
“We acted like a Bundesliga team,” Magath claimed, “but so did HSV.” The second part of his statement reflected reality better than the first. At HSV, who had struggled to get to third place in the second division and thus made it into relegation, one idea was recognizable, the handwriting of their coach, even if the typeface wasn’t always pin-sharp. Chance ruled at Hertha – and the hope of an individual performance from players like Belfodil or Jovetic. It was too thin a hope.
The deficits of the team, which have been known for a long time, came to light again against HSV. Creativity and footballing esprit are completely lacking in the team. Not good conditions for the second leg, in which goalkeeper Marcel Lotka will probably still be missing. Hertha has to win in Hamburg to stay top notch.
Magath was asked about the deficits in the offensive. “We already started practicing today,” he replied with a hint of sarcasm. “Now we have three days to continue practicing to get better offensively.”
Not long ago, Magath was about to be canonized at Hertha. But it wasn’t that long ago that Hertha was almost certain of remaining in the Bundesliga. In the meantime, after a few erratic statements and equally bizarre personnel decisions, the canonization of the 68-year-old has once again been referred to the responsible bodies for detailed examination.
In the nine games under his direction, Magath was forced to make six substitutions during the break – only one was due to injury. Hertha’s coach also corrected one of his surprising personnel decisions against HSV after just 45 minutes: Magath took 19-year-old Luca Wollschläger off the field, who was allowed to play for the first time from the start.
Hertha is proving to be more and more a dysfunctional club: players are getting worse, previously highly praised managers suddenly can’t get anything going, and even a thoroughly experienced coach like Felix Magath is apparently not immune to this toxic environment.
After he had repeatedly admonished and warned in a comparatively comfortable situation, almost provoking relegation, Magath suddenly sounded unusually optimistic, almost euphoric, in the run-up to the duel with HSV. Being inscrutable was always part of his concept. But Hertha’s team, which is still looking for itself, could simply be overwhelmed.
The morning after the defeat, all memories of the relegation around the Olympic Stadium had already been erased. Preparations for the cup final were underway. Next door, Hertha’s team trained, for which the final on Monday in Hamburg is not supposed to be one thing: a final. As always, Felix Magath followed the unit with the appropriate distance. After a little over an hour he left the pitch, alone, with a weary step and bowed head.