Fallen Hamburg gamble on van der Vaart inspiration
By Bradley King
Few would have bet against Borussia Dortmund coming away from Hamburger SV's Imtech Arena last the weekend without anything to show for their efforts.
After all, Dortmund are the reigning Bundesliga champions and have attracted many admirers for their chic approach to the game over the past couple of seasons.
Hamburg, on the other hand, are a million miles away from the performances which once saw them lift the European Cup in 1983. Indeed, they narrowly avoided relegation from Germany's top tier last year. They had also lost their first three league matches this season.
But on Saturday, Hamburg beat Dortmund 3-2; such is the predictability of sport.
It was coach Thorsten Fink's first win since April 14th and was much-needed as Rothosen officials attempt to lift the dark shadow which shrouds the club after last year's disastrous season.
Hamburg have participated in every Bundesliga season - a feat no other team, not even Bayern Munich, can lay claim to - but they came perilously close to relegation as they laboured through the 2011-12 campaign with a cobbled-together squad that enjoyed very little cohesion.
Partly responsible for building that squad is sporting director Frank Arnesen -- a name many Premier League fans will remember from his somewhat mixed experience at Spurs and then Chelsea.
Indeed the Dutchman has certainly drawn on his time at Stamford Bridge in particular, bringing in Jeffrey Bruma on loan as well as fellow Blues youngsters Jacopo Sala, Slobodan Rajkovic, Michael Mancienne and Gökhan Töre during his HSV tenure.
It was a gamble that has not entirely paid off. Out of those players, only the Turkish winger Töre has impressed, and he has already been moved on to Rubin Kazan in Russia, with Chelsea taking a big slice of the profits.
But with a new season comes new hope. The 20-year-old South Korean Son Heung-Min looks to be relishing his new role in HSV's fresh attacking line-up following the departures of Mladen Petric and Paolo Guerrero in the summer. He scored two of Hamburg's three against Dortmund and linked up superbly with Arnesen's marquee summer acquisition.
And then there is Rafael van der Vaart. The returning hero from Tottenham Hotspur was unceremoniously dropped from the post-European Championships Netherlands squad but is still only 29 and the ace in Hamburg’s pack.
The buzz of van der Vaart's signature is still reverberating around Hamburg but will of course wear off soon. The Bundesliga is an unforgiving league and Hamburg will need to have more strings to their bow if they are to embark on the long journey back to the upper echelons of German and European football. With or without their Dutch talisman, few would back such a long shot.