Hamburg 2017/18 Bundesliga preview

Hamburger SV are the only club never relegated from the Bundesliga, enjoying tremendous success between 1975 and 1987 where the northern club won three Bundesliga titles and a European Cup in 1983. The Red Shorts have failed to win anything significant for 30 years however, continually fighting relegation battles during the past four seasons.


Hamburger Sport-Verein football club was founded in 1919 but has origins as far back as 1887. Based in the ancient port city of Hamburg in northern Germany, HSV play their home games at the 57,000 capacity Volksparkstadion. “Die Rothosen” (the Red Shorts) have the unique distinction of being the only team that has played in every season of the Bundesliga.

HSV dominated football in post-war West Germany, winning the Oberliga Nord 15 times in 16 seasons before they were invited to join the formation of the Bundesliga in 1963. HSV’s most successful period occurred between 1975-87 where they won the European Cup Winners’ Cup, three Bundesliga titles, two DFB-Pokal’s and the European Cup.

English forward Kevin Keegan joined Hamburg in 1977 and won back-to-back Ballon d’Or awards in 1978 and 1979, but the slide began in 1987 when legendary Austrian manager Ernst Happel left the club after finishing second in the Bundesliga and winning HSV’s fourth DFB-Pokal. The only trophy HSV would add to their cabinet in the 30 years since would be a 2003 victory in the defunct DFB-Ligapokal.

Hamburg suffered financial troubles in the early 1990s and never recovered. The Red Shorts came close in the UEFA Cup with appearances in the semi-finals in 2009 and 2010, but were knocked out by Fulham with the chance to host the 2010 final. Flirting with relegation during the past four seasons, HSV managed to preserve their Bundesliga status with two relegation playoff wins, narrowly avoiding another playoff appearance last season.

Last season:

2016/17 was another horror show for HSV but it could have been much worse. Bruno Labbadia didn’t last long as manager, sacked after achieving a solitary point from the opening five games. Former Hoffenheim boss Markus Gisdol took over, but no wins from his first seven games in charge left Hamburg rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga.

Gisdol and HSV recovered from December however, eventually avoiding another relegation playoff with a last gasp 2-1 win against Wolfsburg on the final matchday. Hamburg’s problems occurred at both ends of the pitch, conceding the second most goals (61) and scoring the second fewest (33) with no player managing to score more than 5 league goals.

Three players were acquired in January in an attempt to halt the onslaught, Brazilian defensive midfielder Walace alongside centre-backs Mergim Mavraj and Kyriakos Papadopoulos. All three provided defensive stability and were instrumental in Hamburg’s survival.

The club underwent a shakeup in the board room at the winter break with chairman and sporting director Dietmar Beiersdorfer agreeing to leave. Hamburg’s former sporting director Heribert Bruchhagen returned as club chairman with Jens Todt becoming the new sporting director.


Markus Gisdol had an unspectacular playing career in the German lower divisions, coaching at lower league and youth levels before serving as Schalke’s assistant coach from 2011-12. Taking over at struggling Hoffenheim in April 2013, he kept the club up with a play-off victory before securing a ninth-place finish in 2013/14.

Gisdol guided Hoffenheim to eighth in 2014/15 and everything appeared to be going smoothly, but a disastrous start to the 2015/16 campaign saw him sacked in October. Returning to management with HSV 11 months later, Gisdol became Hamburg’s ninth coach in the last five years. The club have shown faith in his abilities by extending his contract in March to 2019.

Gisdol was credited with the development of Roberto Firmino, Kevin Volland and Sebastian Rudy at Hoffenheim, but was unable to extract anything from the unsettled Alen Halilović who left for Las Palmas in January. Accomplishing Bundesliga survival was a fine achievement for Gisdol but the upcoming campaign is likely to provide another stern challenge.

Transfer review:

Out: Goalkeeper René Adler moved to Mainz on a free transfer, two defenders also departing on free transfers with Matthias Ostrzolek joining Hannover and Johan Djourou moving to Antalyaspor. 23-year-old attacker Michael Gregoritsch joined Augsburg for €5.5m.

In: Kyriakos Papadopoulos made his loan move from Bayer Leverkusen permanent for €6.5m with Hamburg bringing in two additional centre backs to bolster the ranks, 25-year-old Bjarne Thoelke on a free transfer from 2. Bundesliga relegated Karlsruher, 18-year-old Rick van Drongelen purchased from Sparta Rotterdam for €3m.

22-year-old goalkeeper Julian Pollersbeck joins from Kaiserslautern for €3.5m fresh from playing a starting role in Germany’s U21 European Championship triumph in Poland. Pollersbeck kept 14 clean sheets for Kaiserslautern in the 2. Bundesliga last season and will battle Christian Mathenia for a starting spot.

Former youth player André Hahn moves back to Hamburg from Borussia Mönchengladbach for €6m. The 26-year-old attacker will be eager to reignite his career in northern Germany after scoring just 3 goals and providing 1 assist in 30 Bundesliga appearances last season.

Can Kyriakos Papadopoulos help Hamburg avoid another relegation battle?

Key player:

Kyriakos Papadopoulos – The 25-year-old central defender moved to HSV on a six-month loan deal in January and was instrumental in preserving Hamburg’s top-flight status. Papadopolous got his Hamburg career off to a great start, scoring against his parent club Bayer Leverkusen in a 1-0 victory before hitting the target again a week later in a 3-0 win at former club Leipzig.

Papadopolous signed a three-year contract at the Volksparkstadion this summer, the powerful and passionate player hoping to put persistent injury problems behind him and lead Hamburg out of the Bundesliga basement. Sporting director Jens Todt hailed Papadopolous’ leadership qualities, telling the club’s official website: “He gave the team a push during the second half of the season, and his winning mentality and passion can also carry the other players.”

U21 player to watch:

Rick van Drongelen – Hamburg’s first choice centre-backs are undoubtedly Papadopoulos and Mavraj, but next in line could be Dutch 18-year-old van Dongelen. Making his debut for Sparta Rotterdam as a 16-year-old, the teenager made 31 appearances for Sparta in the Eredivisie last season and has experience playing for Holland’s youth teams, recently captaining the U19 side.

Previously linked with Ajax, PSV and Chelsea, van Dongelen signed a five-year contract at Hamburg with sporting director Todt saying: “We are delighted that the deal is done. We have been monitoring Rick for a long time and have watched him play more than ten times. He is a strong tackler, plays with a lot of heart and has a strong winning mentality.”


Hamburg have been absolutely atrocious the past four seasons with negativity engulfing and infecting the club. Fresh leadership under chairman Heribert Bruchhagen, sporting director Jens Todt and manager Markus Gisdol has the potential to turn things around as the northern club attempt to avoid a fifth straight relegation battle, but you wouldn’t bet on it.

The ineptitude of the previous administration was highlighted by the sale of Kerem Demirbay to Hoffenheim for just €1.7m last summer, but the three players acquired by the new regime in January proved to be important acquisitions. Gisdol rewarded Mavraj and Papadopoulos by naming them vice captains for the upcoming campaign after spending just 6 months at the club.

The concerns surrounding Hamburg were exemplified in stunning fashion by crashing out of the DFB Pokal 1st Round at third-tier Osnabrück. Playing against ten men from the 18th minute, Hamburg conceded three unanswered goals in an embarrassing 3-1 defeat which leaves Gisdol under huge pressure before a Bundesliga ball is kicked.

Hamburg’s transfer activity so far this summer appears satisfactory but the club desperately need more firepower up front. Bobby Wood scored 9 goals in all competitions last season after joining from 2. Bundesliga side Union Berlin, but with the defence still appearing porous, more goals are surely required.

Be sure to visit Get German Football News and download the full 2016/17 Bundesliga season preview.