Hertha hoping American investors bring change in fortune

BERLIN (AP) — Big city club, no more.

Hertha Berlin is hoping to shake off the moniker associated with the turbulent last seasons and make another fresh start under new financial backers from Miami.

The relegation-threatened Bundesliga club on Monday presented 777 Partners as its majority shareholder following Saturday’s announcement that the American firm was taking over the 64.7% previously owned by Lars Windhorst’s investment group.

“This is a very good day for Hertha BSC,” Kay Bernstein said in what was his second news conference since taking over as club president in June. “It’s also a very, very good day for Hertha BSC to bury the ‘Big City Club’ label once and for all.”

The nickname was spawned by Windhorst in 2019 when he took over and said Hertha, as a club in the capital city, should be on a par with the likes of Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain.

Instead of seeing Hertha challenge Europe’s best, however, Windhorst only ever saw the team fight relegation and lurch from one crisis, scandal or low point to another over three seasons.

Windhorst, who poured 374 million euros ($400 million) into the club, complained last year that investing in Hertha only brought “disadvantages.” His money disappeared amid bad transfer deals, financial mismanagement and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Windhorst said in October he wanted his money back after it was reported he hired an Israeli detective agency to try and force Hertha’s previous president out. He also had disagreements with Bernstein.

“This is like a memorial service that allows us to strip off this label and the delusions of grandeur of the last years,” Bernstein said.

Hertha is still fighting relegation this season, only one point above the drop zone, and 777 does not know yet if it has invested in a first- or second-division club.

Josh Wander, a co-founder of 777, said it doesn’t matter.

“Our goal here is to help facilitate a long-term sustainable financial profile for the club," Wander said. "It’s our belief that Hertha and all the clubs that we own, that the best way to achieve sporting success is to find ways to sustain yourself for the long term.”

The American investment firm already has stakes in Spanish club Sevilla, Italian club Genoa, Brazilian team Vasco da Gama, Belgian club Standard Liege, French team Red Star FC and Australian club Melbourne Victory.

Wander said each could benefit from the experiences of the other, but that no one club would be prioritized over another.

Wander declined to say how much the company had paid Windhorst for his shares because of a confidentiality agreement, but confirmed media reports that 777 was investing a further 100 million euros ($107 million) in Hertha.

It will take 777’s share of the company behind the club to about 75%. Hertha will retain the majority of voting rights in keeping with German soccer’s 50-plus-1 rule limiting the influence of outside investors.

“Germany obviously has a different playbook from a control perspective than other leagues around the world. And we recognize that going in,” Wander said. "But we found a partner that we believed we could trust to work with.”

Wander added that Hertha gave his firm “a great deal of confidence that we could come into this environment and work as collaboratively as we possibly can within the confines of the 50-plus-1 rulebook."

“The intent of our partnership here is not to be authoritative,” Wander said. "The intent is to be consultative.”

Bernstein confirmed that 777 had been consulted in January when the club decided to fire head of sport Fredi Bobic, and on player signings during the recent transfer window.

“For me," Bernstein said, "it’s something completely normal to exchange ideas, reflect on perspectives and see what’s the best way for Hertha BSC.”


More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press