Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Hamburg derby defeat sours VDV coup
The fact that the Bundesliga's second round of matches coincided with the closing of the transfer window always made it likely that events on the pitch would be overshadowed by dealings in the boardrooms - but the extent to which this happened was still startling.
Bayern Munich, at long last, finalised the biggest transfer in German history when they signed Bilbao midfielder Javier Martinez for €40 million last Wednesday. The incredible sum, which by general consensus far exceeds the player's actual market worth, was due to the fact that Bilbao had no intention of selling Martinez and wouldn't budge, meaning the player's buy-out clause had to come into effect.
However, it also clearly reflects Bayern's ambitions this season, because Martinez plays a position - the more defensive of the two holding midfielders in front of the back four - that the club had adequately covered already.
This much became obvious on Sunday, when Bayern demolished Stuttgart 6-1 in the South German derby. Luiz Gustavo played in the role Martinez is expected to fill, and was one of the two best players on the pitch. The other was Thomas Muller, who stood in for the ill Arjen Robben, scored two goals and had a hand in two others. Put differently, if everyone is healthy, Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes now seems to have what he always wanted - many, many options, all of them promising.
Yet the Martinez deal wasn't the story of the weekend. As big as this transfer was, the writing had been on the wall for many weeks - but the move that was brokered at Hamburg shortly before the transfer window shut came as a true surprise.
A week ago, we said that Hamburg director of football Frank Arnesen would have to become active in the transfer market, if only to change the mood of pessimism that threatened to engulf the club. And he did that, not only adding Petr Jiracek from Wolfsburg and Milan Badelj from Dinamo Zagreb to the squad, but also pulling off the biggest coup in recent memory by bringing Rafael van der Vaart, probably Hamburg's most popular star since Kevin Keegan, back from Spurs.
There were rumours that Arnesen wasn't really involved in this deal, though the Dane was quick to counter them. "All the players who come in come in through me," he said. "I have to laugh out loud when I hear I didn't have anything to do with the van der Vaart transfer."
What is undeniably true, however, is that Hamburg never had the money Spurs were asking for - some €13 million. As late as Thursday, the club's press officer called this sum "utopian", but then the local billionaire Klaus-Michael Kuhne came to the rescue again.
Kuhne is a great HSV fan and has financed numerous transfers before by lending the club interest-free money in return for a part of the transfer rights, for instance. Yet the most interesting aspect of the deal is not who brokered it or who financed it, but simply why Van der Vaart agreed to it.
On Friday, the online version of the newspaper Die Welt ran a satirical piece that said Van der Vaart had simply lost his mind (and was now advised by an agent called Mad Dog Fietspad, who declared that the player had come back to the continent to save the Euro).
It was relatively funny... until the next day. That's when Hamburg lost the North German derby at Werder Bremen 2-0. Not even another outstanding performance from former Germany goalkeeper Rene Adler could keep a thoroughly outplayed HSV in the game. Van der Vaart watched from the stands and although he often flashed his trademark smile, there were moments when he did look like a man who wondered what he was getting himself into.
Then again, it could have been worse. He could have been watching Hoffenheim. This club has also made a well-known signing, with goalkeeper Tim Wiese joining from Bremen during the summer to, as he put it, have a better chance of playing in Europe. Now he all too often gives the appearance of someone who is having second thoughts.
Two and a half weeks ago, Hoffenheim suffered a shocking 4-0 defeat in the cup at fourth division side Berlin AK 07, then lost the first game of the league season at Gladbach and followed that with a 4-0 drubbing in their first home game against promoted Eintracht Frankfurt.
The irony of it all is that, during the summer break, Hoffenheim changed their recent policy of saving money because it seemed destined to lead to mid-table anonymity. The club signed Wiese and Matthieu Delpierre on free transfers and spent some €11 million on Leverkusen's Eren Derdiyok and Joselu from Real Madrid's second team. Well, they did manage to escape anonymity - though it may have been into the wrong direction.
Hoffenheim's most recent opponents, meanwhile, are the toast of the town, as Frankfurt are the only team apart from Bayern that managed to win their first two Bundesliga games. "Not winning the league title would be a disappointment now," coach Armin Veh jokingly said.
It sums up the excellent mood surrounding the new teams on the block, with the other promoted clubs also doing well: Dusseldorf have yet to concede a goal in either league or cup, while Furth celebrated their first-ever win in the Bundesliga away at Mainz on Friday.
Furth's next game, after the international break, takes us back to the subject of the transfer market, as they will be facing Schalke at home. It should be a momentous occasion, not only for Furth's coach Mike Buskens, a Schalke man through and through, but also for another entirely unexpected transfer target.
On Friday, Schalke brought in Barcelona's Dutch winger Ibrahim Affelay on loan. He played seven minutes for his new team on Saturday, and is expected to make his debut in the starting XI at Furth. Quite a few observers think this transfer shows that Schalke are not content with merely being also-rans this season - though coach Huub Stevens hasn't yet been heard to echo Armin Veh's statement.