Since the creation of the Bundesliga in 1963, one club has been an ever present force making history along the way. But now with one final game of this regular season left to play, Hamburger SV teeters on the edge, and could write a new chapter in its history for all the wrong reasons. Sitting in 16th place in the league, five points behind Stuttgart, Hamburg are staring down the barrel towards relegation. If results go against them on Saturday, Hamburgs run as the only club in the Bundesliga never to have been relegated could be over. The best Hamburg can hope for is a relegation playoff match against the Bundesliga 2’s third place team in a winner takes all match. All other scenarios see them dropping out of Germany’s top division for the very first time.
To call this season a disaster for Hamburg would be an understatement. Like Fulham in the English Premiership, Hamburg have chopped and changed its manager too frequently to realistically think that survival was possible. The sacking of Thorsten Fink in September started the ball rolling and when his replacement, Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk was dismissed in early February with Hamburg already in the hole, all signs pointed towards trouble. The task handed to former Hannover boss, Mirko Slomka has been too large meaning he could do little to pull Hamburg out of its death spiral. Going into their final game against 7th placed Mainz, Slomka and his players are facing up to the realization that they need to gain all three points in order to secure the relegation play off place and the only chance that Hamburg has of staying in the league. Defeat, along with a win for either 17th place Nurnberg or 18th place Eintracht Braunschweig, will condemn Hamburg to Bundesliga 2 football next season.
Relegation to the lower leagues will spell the end for the current batch of stars with the likes of Rene Adler, Rafael Van Der Vaart and the talented Hakan Çalhanoğlu all heading for the exit. Bouncing back up will not be an easy task either as clubs like Kaiserslautern, Bochum and Fortuna Düsseldorf have all discovered. The Bundesliga 2 is as competitive as it gets and relies on grit and determination to escape, something Hamburg have seriously lacked this season. If they are to go down, Hamburg will need to turn to its highly rated youth system to provide the inspiration and the players needed to mount a serious challenge. Relegation may offer more of a chance to the likes of Jonathan Tan, Zhi Lam and Matti Steinmann to show what they can do, providing the club can hold on to this talented trio with the Bundesliga vultures already circling. If Hamburg are to survive and spend another year in the top flight, then the club will need a drastic overhaul in the summer with significant changes and investment made to prevent a repeat of this season. Questions should be asked about the effectiveness of Slomka as head coach especially given that Hamburg has only managed to pick up 11 points out of 36 since his appointment. The club also needs to look at whether the team depends too heavily on an aging Rafael Van Der Vaart, who at times this season has struggled with form and fitness. The glory years of the late 70’s/early 80’s seem a lifetime ago for the Hamburg fans who are desperate to see their team back challenging for honours once again. Unfortunately for them, if Hamburg loses on Saturday the only honour they could be competing for next season may be the Bundesliga 2 title. Not exactly the promise land for Der Dinosaurier.