Hertha Berlin’s push for Europe replaced by relegation scrap

March 7, 2022 GMT
Angry fans speak with Hertha's Maximilian Mittelstaedt after the German Bundesliga soccer match between Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Saturday, March 5, 2022. (Soeren Stache/dpa via AP)
Angry fans speak with Hertha's Maximilian Mittelstaedt after the German Bundesliga soccer match between Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Saturday, March 5, 2022. (Soeren Stache/dpa via AP)
Angry fans speak with Hertha's Maximilian Mittelstaedt after the German Bundesliga soccer match between Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Saturday, March 5, 2022. (Soeren Stache/dpa via AP)
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Angry fans speak with Hertha's Maximilian Mittelstaedt after the German Bundesliga soccer match between Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Saturday, March 5, 2022. (Soeren Stache/dpa via AP)
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Angry fans speak with Hertha's Maximilian Mittelstaedt after the German Bundesliga soccer match between Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Saturday, March 5, 2022. (Soeren Stache/dpa via AP)

BERLIN (AP) — When financier Lars Windhorst started investing heavily in Hertha Berlin in 2019, it was with the goal of turning the club into a European power.

Instead, he has seen Hertha lurch from one crisis, scandal or low point to another — and the “Old Lady” now once again finds itself trying to stave off relegation from the Bundesliga.

Hertha hasn’t won a game yet this year and currently occupies the relegation playoff place, just a point above Stuttgart, which ended its nine-game run without a win on Saturday.

Hertha slumped to a 4-1 loss at home to Eintracht Frankfurt, its fourth consecutive defeat, when the team was whistled by its own fans amid calls for coach Tayfun Korkut to go.

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“I’m disappointed, I’m angry,” said Korkut, whose record of two wins, three draws and seven defeats from 12 Bundesliga games is worse than his predecessor’s. Pál Dárdai was fired after starting the season with four wins, two draws and seven defeats.

Dárdai, who was Hertha coach before Windhorst’s first investment, had returned to save the team from relegation last season. Hertha also had a brush with relegation the year before when it went through four coaches – Ante Čović, Jürgen Klinsmann, Alexander Nouri and Bruno Labbadia – in the first season of the Windhorst era.

Windhorst appeared to rue his 374-million-euro investment last month, when he criticized Hertha’s leadership.

“I was banking on there being rational and forward-thinking people at Hertha who also want success,” Windhorst told the business magazine Capital, saying it had been a mistake to invest in the club.

“So far, investing in Hertha has only brought me disadvantages,” Windhorst said.

Windhorst’s money fueled a flurry of transfer activity at Hertha, which was among Europe’s biggest spenders with players coming and going.

They failed to have the desired effect.

Hertha managing director Fredi Bobic, who joined the club last June, got rid of many of his predecessor Michael Preetz’ signings as he tried to streamline the squad and move away from what he called the “many egos” in the team.

Brazilian forward Matheus Cunha was sold off to Atlético Madrid last summer and Polish striker Krzysztof Piatek joined Fiorentina in January.

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South Korean forward Lee Dong-jun, who joined Hertha in January, looked overwhelmed on his first start against Frankfurt on Saturday, while another new signing, Marc Oliver Kempf, was furious after the loss.

“I’ve been here a few weeks now and we haven’t won a game yet. It makes me sick,” Kempf said. “Everyone here has to be annoyed enough to work their (butts) off and take the three points home. Everyone has to understand that and not just stroll around airy-fairy and get beaten 4-1 again.”

Hertha has conceded 11 goals in Kempf’s three appearances so far.

Bobic said last week that Windhorst’s money is “gone,” spent mostly on offsetting losses, including those caused by the coronavirus pandemic. He also said the club backer’s comments came at a “fatal time” when the team was struggling.

Hertha is the worst side in the Bundesliga since the second half of the season began. Even last-place Greuther Fürth is showing more promise, and the other relegation rivals — Stuttgart, Augsburg and Arminia Bielefeld — all seem better prepared for the end-of-season scrap.

Hertha next plays Saturday at Borussia Mönchengladbach, which has troubles of its own after three games without a win and will aim to iron them out against Korkut’s confidence-hit team.

The games won’t get any easier after that, with Hoffenheim — a candidate for Champions League qualification — up next, then a visit to third-place Bayer Leverkusen, before a city derby against Union Berlin with more than just pride at stake.

Union knocked Hertha out of the German Cup in January and would relish playing a part in knocking its rival out of the Bundesliga, too.

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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP