Hannover's stay in Bundesliga 2 only lasted one year as they returned to the top flight at the first time of asking in 2016/17.
With the ink already dry on the contracts of five new signings even before mid-June, sporting director Horst Heldt has been particularly busy ensuring the Reds remain in the top flight for much longer than they stuck around in Bundesliga 2 for, even though they will not be biting off more than they can chew – at least not straight away.
Watch: Hannover's top ten goals from 2016/17:
It was a measure of Hannover's ambitions that, even though the team were performing well and on course for promotion, club president Martin Kind could still see some room for improvement in March, when he brought Heldt in to replace Martin Bader. "We need to go up – there's no alternative," said Kind, justifying a decision which was intended to leave the team no excuses over the final two months of the campaign.
Heldt faced up to the challenge with a big decision of his own, bringing in Andre Breitenreiter to replace Daniel Stendel as head coach. The local-born Breitenreiter had already worked under Heldt at Schalke, and he was the man the sporting director trusted best to deliver on the promotion which Kind had declared an obligation. Both moves paid dividends.
With 67 points and just five defeats all season, Hannover were promoted in second place behind Stuttgart, even if they were only assured promotion on the final day of the season as Eintracht Braunschweig put up a brave battle. With 17 goals, Martin Harnik helped a team which also relied on the experience of Edgar Prib and defensive solidity of Salif Sane to rebuild following relegation.
"Of course it's something special to be promoted with my home town club, in my home town," said Breitenreiter upon mission accomplished. "The relief is huge right now." His team had coped with the pressure, as had Breitenreiter. "He kept his cool and made all the right decisions," said Heldt, while Kind said they could all be "proud" of what they had achieved in 2016/17.
That chapter in the club's history was quickly closed, however. No sooner had the promotion celebrations concluded, Heldt was already busy in his office planning the squad for next season. "Hannover have a good reputation and exciting objectives," said Heldt to NDR television, explaining how astute early planning had seen them secure the likes of Matthias Ostrzolek, Pirmin Schwegler and Michael Esser long before other Bundesliga clubs had started to look at their options.
Those new arrivals should help the club build on the foundations they have laid and aim for a return to a not-so-distant past, when they were welcoming the likes of Atletico Madrid to Lower Saxony. "We know where we come from, but we also know that it was not all that long ago that Hannover were playing in Europe," said Heldt. "So why should we not aim to return there in our third or fourth year back in the Bundesliga?"
That would be following the mould of Cologne, who have just booked their place in the Europa League after establishing themselves as a top-flight force over three seasons. The Billy Goats flirted with relegation early on, though, and Hannover know that the path into the top seven is riddled with obstacles. "We just want to keep as far away as possible from the relegation zone next year," said Heldt, who knows how there is no alternative to Hannover staying up, just like last season's promotion was mandatory.
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