You don't often find a club referring to itself as "sleeping," even if the adjective is followed by the word "giant." But Hamburger SV supervisory board chairman Ernst-Otto Rieckhoff was happy use this term on Sunday, when he announced the appointment of Frank Arnesen as sporting director from July 1. The 54-year-old Dane, Rieckhoff revealed, had called HSV a "sleeping giant" in contract negotiations and been very excited about the untapped potential of the Bundesliga stalwarts. Rieckhoff, too, seemed very happy and pleased with himself, perhaps understandably so: the last time he had gone before the media a month ago, Rieckhoff had to explain why negotiations with German FA sporting director Matthias Sammer had broken down at the 11th hour. "This time, I can assure you, the deal is definitely done," said Rieckhoff, with a wry smile.
Arnesen, currently working at Chelsea in a similar role, has signed a four-year-contract at the Volksparkstadion. "I've always followed the Bundesliga, and as a Dane, I've always been tempted to work there," the former PSV Eindhoven and Ajax player declared on Hamburg's home-page on Wednesday. "HSV used to have a fantastic team with players like Lars Bastrup, Kevin Keegan or Horst Hrubesch, that's when I started taking an interest in them. The city of Hamburg has always fascinated me, too."
Beautiful, elegant Hamburg is indeed an underrated destination and the same is true of the club, in some respects. It's important to mention a few numbers at this point. A turnover of €146.2 million ($201.2M) in the 2009/10 season (source: Deloitte Football Money League) makes the Northerners the 13th wealthiest club in European football and more financially powerful than teams like Olympique Lyon (14th) or AS Roma (18th); Tottenham Hotspur €146.63M (11th) and Manchester City €152.8M (10th) are only marginally ahead. What's more, all of Hamburg's revenue is created organically, without generous subsidies from a wealthy owner. In addition, the Volksparkstadion is one of the continent's most modern and sizable stadiums with a 57 000 capacity.
Hamburg has the financial clout. And as the only team in the Bundesliga who has been continuously in the top-flight since 1963, they certainly have the history. Problem is, they have too much of it: unless you count two UEFA Intertoto Cups -- no one does -- the last trophy dates back to 1987 (German Cup). It's scant return for a club that used to be a European heavyweight in the late 70s and early 80s.
President Bernd Hoffmann's ambitious quest to re-establish Hamburg "among Europe's top-10 clubs" has suffered another setback this season. The individual quality in a squad that includes Croatian striker Mladen Petric, goal-machine Ruud van Nistelrooy and the exciting Dutch winger Eljero Elia might have been enough to challenge for the Champions League places but a chronic lack of cohesion as well as weakness on the managerial level have made getting into the Europa League the only realistic target. Coach Armin Veh, who came close to resigning before Christmas, is expected to do so in the next few weeks. "I don't like lying to you, that's why I won't reply," was all he was ready to say this week, when a reporter asked about his future. Veh's successor will be the 11th man on the bench in as many years, a stat that doesn't reflect too well on Hoffmann's reign.
Until sporting director Dietmar Beiersdorfer's defection to RB Salzburg in 2009, Hamburg could at least pride itself on being great on buying and selling players. The club made a ton of money on shipping men to Manchester City, especially: Belgian defender Vincent Kompany, Dutch midfield hard man Nigel de Jong and Germany's Jérôme Boateng brought in a combined €41 million ($56.4M). Hamburg's assured touch in the transfer market has sadly disappeared along with Beiersdorfer, however, whose talent had earned him the nickname "Dukaten Didi" (Didi Dough). His successor Bastian Reinhardt, 35, always looked a little out of his depth and was fatally undermined when Sammer was publicly courted in January.
Hamburg must hope that Arnesen's reign will amount to more than a wake-up call: it needs a viable long-term strategy to turn its considerable financial prowess into more success on the pitch. His first, key task is to identify a new manager. While Sport-Bild and other tabloids have linked Arnesen's compatriot Michael Laudrup (RCD Mallorca) with the job, Veh's assistant Michael Oenning is currently favored by the board. The 45-year-old Oenning, has quietly assumed many of Veh's core responsibilities in recent weeks and impressed players with his dedicated tactical work. He would also be a relatively cheap option and enable Hamburg to concentrate on player investment, even if qualification for European football will not be achieved.
Arnesen will bring Chelsea scout Lee Congerton to Hamburg. "A clear signal," writes Bild. The newspaper expects the Dane to "clear out" the whole department and also to re-organize youth development where three different directors in three years have made continuous progress neigh impossible. It was telling that Rieckhoff (somewhat generously) praised Arnesen for "readjusting" Chelsea in terms of its academy. His eye for a player is undoubted -- Arjen Robben, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ji-Sung Park and Ronaldo were spotted by him at PSV -- but his record with teenage prodigies at Stamford Bridge was mixed. In the six years since his arrival in 2005, not a single youth player managed to establish himself in the first team.
In a way, the future will have to wait, though. Putting together next season's senior squad will be hard enough in itself, "a herculean task," according to Hamburger Morgenpost. Van Nistelrooy, Brazilian midfielder Ze Roberto and keeper Frank Rost are out of contract in the summer, along with German international Piotr Trochowski, young strikers Tunay Toran, Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting and the perennially injured Dutch winger Romeo Castelen. Eleven more players, among them Swedish striker Marcus Berg (Eindhoven), are currently out on loan. Arnesen will have to work fast to sort the prospects from the dead wood: reported next-season targets like Gladbach midfielder Marco Reus and Nürnberg's Ilkay Gündogan won't hang around forever.
A salary of €2 million ($2.7M) per season until 2014 seems adequate recompense for one of European football's most challenging jobs. Arnesen will have to effectively reboot the whole club, but can't afford any significant downtime. Most neutrals will hope that he will indeed turn out the "grand solution" (Rieckhoff) to Hamburg's troubles. After 2--odd years of underachievement, it's high-time Germany's impeded giant returned to its natural habitat: the very top of the Bundesliga tree.