Tottenham had a great win the other day, putting Manchester City away 4-1. It makes me frustrated as a Hamburger SV fan, since I get to watch yet another HSV alumni made good on the big money stage of the Premier League. Heung-min Son was sold to Bayer Leverkusen, and from there made his way to Spurs for the staggering sum of 30 million Euros, as of 2015 the most expensive Asian player in history.
He’s not the first or last player to be sold at a relatively young age or in the prime of career by HSV. It is absolutely gut wrenching to see the scouts of HSV identifying, buying, and then selling top players well before they’ve achieved any success for Hamburg. A few more examples:
Rafael van der Vaart in his prime moved to Real Madrid, from there to Tottenham, and finally he returned to HSV. His skills were so diminished at that point that Hamburg didn’t bother extending his contract. van der Vaart is a prime example of a might have been, on his day being absolutely unstoppable as an attacking midfielder.
Khalid Boulahrouz played for HSV for two seasons and then rapidly moved on to Chelsea, gutting HSVs defence. “The Cannibal” was sorely missed in the awful seasons which followed his departure.
Daniel van Buyten formed the other half of a hugely successful Hamburg defence, and moved on to Bayern Munich where he played for eight seasons. The giant Belgian ripped the heart out of Hamburg’s defence and stomped on it as he left.
Jorg Albertz played for Hamburg in what would become a common pattern for many players, leaving HSV for another club (in this case Glasgow Rangers) for a few years, and then returning to much fanfare only to be near the end of their careers.
Hans-Joerg Butt left HSV after only four years to go to Bayer Leverkusen on a free transfer no less, arguably being a top 5 goalkeeper in the Bundesliga for his entire career. The penalty scoring goalkeeper was at least replaced by the competent Rene Adler, who is still with the club.
Thomas Doll, National Eleven member and the most sought after player from the former DDR, moved away to Lazio, finally returning to Hamburg in the twilight of his career for a mere 41 games in three seasons.
Thomas Gravesen was sold to Everton, with the tough tackling midfielder going on to have a very successful career there and to even Real Madrid afterwards. He was sadly missed as HSV’s midfield never really won another ball after.
Another in a series of tough tackling and extremely talented defensive midfielders was Nigel de Jong. This one particularly hurt as Manchester City swooped in to buy him, basically eviscerating HSVs midfield in one fell swoop. He has since moved on to minnow team AC Milan.
Ivica Olic continued the pattern of returning to HSV in the dregs of his career after having moved to Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg, finally returning to northern Germany to score a piffling two goals in eighteen games. He will no doubt be retiring soon as he is 36.
Stig Tofting moved to Bolton Wanderers and from there to a succession of small beer teams in Scandinavia. The tough defensive midfielder fled to Bolton because he was afraid that his position was under attack. He needn’t have worried.
Tomas Ujfalusi, a gifted defender, stayed a little longer at least, before fleeing for Fiorentina, not exactly the largest of Italian teams.
Hasim Salihamidzic, a fantastic Bosnian player, played for HSV for three years before getting sucked into the vortex of Bayern Munchen. He had a very successful career for them, moving onto Juventus before retiring at Wolfsburg.
We can’t really include players like Kevin Keegan who was one of the rare exceptions to the rule: coming to already a big shot and helping Hamburg to win the League, and leaving thereafter. He is still hugely popular in Hamburg and rightly so. Since he departed HSV have won the Intertoto Cup twice, and the League Cup once not exactly a huge return in 30 years. Although they did win the European Cup in 1982-83, his legacy left a gaping hole in Hamburg’s history.
Why do Hamburg have to keep selling? On paper they are a rich club, Forbes seems to think they are worth $329 million US, making it the 14th richest club in the world. And yet in 2014 they needed to borrow money from billionaire fan in order to finance purchases. They continually sell their stars, and not always at bargain prices, and the money just disappears into a giant black sinkhole.
HSV’s current squad is probably the worst its been in 20 years. A subdued Lewis Holtby, absolutely squandered by Spurs after moving there from Schalke 04, is perhaps the best player in the lineup. The once tough tackling midfield has been replaced with mediocre players bought from the Swiss or East European leagues. The defence has been marshalled by the long suffering Johan Djourou, an adopted Swiss international footballer who has had to suffer through a series of wildly average defensive partners.
Even during the leaner 2000s HSV always had at least one or two exciting players to heat the blood, notably the excellent Rudolfo Esteban Cardoso and the afore-mentioned van der Vaart. Sadly at the moment each season has been a succession of barely avoiding the drop and fans awaiting the board to finally get their financial house in order. The Hamburg of today is neither a team which inspires or requires devotion. I can only wish Bruno Labbadia, their manager, the best of luck as he has returned to Hamburg this year after a revolving door of managers. Each one of them in turn was fired or in the case of the best of them (Martin Jol) found an excuse to leave. Something is rotten at the heart of the team, and until the board is wiped clean, nothing is likely to change with the Bundesliga’s most storied selling club.