Hertha Berlin tries another new start after years of turmoil
BERLIN (AP) — Hertha Berlin is trying yet another new start.
The relegation-threatened Bundesliga club presented former academy chief Benjamin Weber as its new sporting director on Sunday, just two days before the winter transfer window closes.
“It’s not a lot of time. But we have a plan and will see what’s possible within the limits of our financial possibilities,” Weber said of Hertha’s pressing need for reinforcements.
Hertha also appointed Andreas “Zecke” Neuendorf, another long-time “Herthaner,” to act as a link between the club’s academy and first team.
Their appointments came a day after Hertha unexpectedly fired Fredi Bobic as head of sport, dismissing the man who had been brought in in June 2021 to clean up others’ mistakes after years of turmoil, disappointment and underachievement at the club.
“Fredi Bobic came to Hertha BSC in 2021 under different circumstances. Conditions have changed significantly in the last year and a half. We are far from looking ahead or looking up,” Hertha president Kay Bernstein said.
Hertha’s loss to city rival Union Berlin in a derby the day before was the team’s third straight defeat this year and leaves it stuck in the relegation zone, second from bottom.
Hertha has only three league wins from 18 rounds so far. Coach Sandro Schwarz’s team was knocked out in the first round of the German Cup, started the Bundesliga with another derby defeat to Union and there has been little sign of a change in fortune since.
Bernstein, a former hardcore Hertha ultra with no prior managerial experience who was surprisingly elected president last June, was on Sunday making his first appearance at a press conference since taking over.
“So, I apologize if it doesn’t go as smoothly as expected. I think a certain nervousness is normal,” Bernstein said.
Weber, sitting beside Bernstein and two other board members, said he was “itching to get going and tackle the most urgent tasks.”
The 42-year-old Berliner previously worked for the club in various roles from 2004 until February last year. He said he used the time away from Hertha to travel and gain experience at clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Dinamo Zagreb.
Weber’s first task will be to see what signings he can find for a team that desperately needs them before the transfer window closes at 6 p.m. local time (1700 GMT) on Tuesday.
Hertha has fewer points than at the same stage last season, when it escaped relegation thanks only to a nervy playoff win.
But Hertha is short on cash after squandering the 374 million euros ($406 million) invested in the club by millionaire backer Lars Windhorst since 2019. Bobic said early last year that the money was gone.
Lately, Bobic had overseen more departures than arrivals as he sought to bring down expenses. But his signings were also criticized when they failed to add to the team’s quality.
Bobic’s assistants, technical director Sebastian Zelichowski and manager Thomas Westphal, were also dismissed.
Bernstein said he spoke to Schwarz and the players about Bobic’s dismissal on Sunday morning and that he had conveyed the supervisory board’s “100% backing” of the coaching staff. Schwarz is the team’s ninth coach since 2019.
Neuendorf is supposed to give added support.
The 47-year-old Neuendorf played 149 Bundesliga games for Hertha and was assistant coach to Pál Dárdai until they were both fired by Bobic in November 2021 when Hertha was 14th in the 18-team league. He previously worked as a youth coach for Hertha.
In a thinly veiled barb at Bobic, Bernstein said Hertha will now take a different path.
“The other way is to look at reality. What do we have available? How can we reach our goals? How can we best implement this as a team?” asked Bernstein, who has now seen off Hertha’s head of sport and financial backer since taking over as club president.
Bernstein fell out with Windhorst last year amid allegations the investor had secretly hired an Israeli detective agency to force out Werner Gegenbauer, who had been Hertha president for 14 years.
Gegenbauer stepped down in May last year, a day after Hertha clinched survival, when he accused Windhorst of sowing division at the club since his first investment in 2019.
Hertha was far from boring before Windhorst’s involvement, but the drama certainly picked up thereafter.
Windhorst-appointed Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as coach ended in acrimony in early 2020. Hertha general manager Michael Preetz was fired in January 2021, ending his 25-year association. Former Sky Germany CEO Carsten Schmidt lasted less than a year as managing director before leaving for personal reasons. Sporting director Arne Friedrich also quit.
There have been scandals, too. Goalkeeping coach Zsolt Petry was fired for homophobic and xenophobic comments in a newspaper interview, and board member Jens Lehmann followed for sending a racist message to former player Dennis Aogo, who is Black.
Windhorst complained in February last year that “investing in Hertha has only brought me disadvantages” and that he had been “banking on there being rational and forward-thinking people at Hertha.”
Windhorst in November agreed to sell his 64.7% stake to Miami-based 777 Partners. The deal is still subject to approval from Hertha’s board and the German league.
Bernstein said 777 had been informed of the decision to fire Bobic “because we are now probably on the home straight … and they’re going along with it. That shows that it’s a substantive, much stronger partnership.”
Hertha next faces a tough game at Bobic’s former club Eintracht Frankfurt, and the fixtures don’t get any easier against Borussia Mönchengladbach or Borussia Dortmund in the games that follow.
Bernstein acknowledged he’s worried about the team’s fate.
“I also think of how Herthaners will go to work tomorrow and have to stomach the next defeat,” Bernstein said. “But it’s still our conviction and our hope and our belief in this club that we can turn it around, that we can maneuver this club in the right direction again.”
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Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press