Hamburg have been away for a long time but they're now closer than ever to a Bundesliga return ahead of a play-off clash with Hertha Berlin. - © Oliver Hardt/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images
Hamburg have been away for a long time but they're now closer than ever to a Bundesliga return ahead of a play-off clash with Hertha Berlin. - © Oliver Hardt/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images
bundesliga

Hamburg: the dinosaur of German football on the verge of return from Bundesliga extinction

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Hamburg are just a play-off victory away from ending their four-year stay in the second division and recovering from Bundesliga extinction.

After their relegation in 2017/18, the six-time German champions had stalled in the second tier – missing the opportunity of promotion on three separate occasions with a trio of fourth-place finishes.

"This is an extremely painful moment for the entire Hamburg SV," said club President Bernd Hoffmann upon confirmation of their relegation for the first time in 55 years back in 2018. "The club has lost one of the things that makes it unique."

Chairman Frank Wettstein added: "This is an incredibly sad day for every HSV fan. Our relegation is the harsh result of a poor sporting development, which we could not correct despite the positive development we have seen under new coach Christian Titz."

With a rich history of marquee talent, fans were typically treated to regular internationally recognised star names on the team sheet at the Volksparkstadion, with Rafael van der Vaart, Son Heung-min and Hakan Calhanoglu all wearing the club's famous white, red and blue colours over the last decade. Go back even further and you had Uwe Seeler, Manfred Kaltz, Horst Hrubesch, Kevin Keegan and Felix Magath. The latter is the man now standing in their way of a return as coach of play-off rivals Hertha Berlin.

Before they had even kicked a ball this season, the Dino were on the back foot as 2020/21 top scorer Simon Terodde elected to join fellow sleeping-giants Schalke – fresh from their top-flight relegation. His 24 goals in the previous campaign needed replacing, especially if the club were to compete once again for promotion. He was to be replaced by Robert Glatzel, with the former Mainz loanee joining from Cardiff City. In midfield, Jeremy Dudziak joined Greuther Fürth following their promotion to the Bundesliga, while Amadou Onana departed the club for Lille. A flurry of departures for a club seeking to build another promotion challenge.

The relentless fight for a place in the top tier left Hamburg battling to not miss out on a play-off for a fourth consecutive season, while also posing an outside possibility for automatic ascension. And the entire squad have played their part in Hamburg's return to the promised land.

Glatzel is the second highest scorer in the league – eight goals short of his predecessor Terodde. Sonny Kittel has delivered in both the goals and assists department, while Netherlands U21 midfielder Ludovit Reis – a free transfer from Barcelona last summer – has notched an impressive five goals in his maiden campaign. The quickness of Bakery Jatta continues to add extra dynamism in attack, while new club captain Sebastian Schonlau and Jonas Meffert, summer signings from Paderborn and Holstein Kiel respectively, boast some of the brightest passing statistics of the league.

Son Heung-min (l.) and Rafael van der Vaart (r.) are two of the famous faces that previously represented six-time German champions, Hamburg. - Oliver Hardt/Getty Images for DFL

In their final outing of the regular season at the Volksparkstadion, Glatzel scored both goals as HSV beat Hannover 2-1 to jump into third and take their promotion bid to the final day. "Today, luck was on our side,” head coach Tim Walter told the club’s website. "We were a bit sleepy when we conceded the goal, but in the second half we really invested everything we had in the tank. That's why today was a big football festival, which we deserved to win in the end. The fans were incredible and played a big part in the victory."

Twists and turns have once again remained a prominent feature throughout the promotion race in Bundesliga 2, even on the final day with a come-from-behind victory at Hansa Rostock, and Rothosen players have had to keep themselves grounded at the prospect of the taking the club back to the top tier of German football.

"It's all about us,” said Glatzel following his double over Hannover. “And because we have it in our own hands now, it's also logical that we want to grab it now and get promoted, that's absolutely clear. HSV is simply a Bundesliga team, that goes without saying. You could feel the enthusiasm and the longing of the people in the stadium yesterday. In order to achieve this great common goal, we will give everything as a team and as a club."

Watch: A dramatic final day saw HSV snatch third

The 28-year-old is no stranger to play-off heartache, falling just shy of the Premier League in England with Welsh side Cardiff City in 2019/20. While his loan to Mainz for the 2020/21 Rückrunde proved relatively quiet for goals, his prior Bundesliga 2 experience of regularly finding the net with Heidenheim and Kaiserslautern was advantageous ahead of his move to Hamburgian surroundings.

His 22 league goals have been vital throughout the campaign, including four in a 5-0 away win at fellow promotion hopefuls Darmstadt - the team HSV pipped to third on goal difference. And his five goals in five DFB Cup games brought HSV through to the semi-finals of the competition – where they were eliminated by Freiburg – Glatzel again on the scoresheet with a consolation.

After his striker’s four-goal haul against Darmstadt, Walter said: "In the first half of the season, we often didn't reward ourselves, but today we were more efficient. ‘Bobby’ Glatzel's four goals are emblematic of the performance of the entire team. That was a special team performance."

Watch: Glatzel runs riot in HSV's 5-0 win over Darmstadt

Hamburg have been the most resilient team in Bundesliga 2, incurring the least amount of losses (six) of any team in the division and conceding eight goals fewer than any other team (35). They have converted the highest number of penalties (six) of the eight that they were awarded, with Kittel and Kinsombi despatching all of their attempts, while Glatzel only scored once from the spot in three separate efforts. The club top the charts by some considerable margin in possession (62 percent) and pass completion (86.2 percent).

The addition of Schalke and Werder Bremen to the league posed a tougher challenge for the club to overcome with historically first-division rivalries very much renewed. Furthermore - and almost beneficially to HSV - noisy neighbours St. Pauli have kept much of the attention of onlookers having lead the league for much of the campaign. But the Dino have remained cool under pressure, winning their last five games of the season to move up from an improbable position of sixth into the play-off spot.

Whilst Glatzel has set the pace in front of goal, additional contributions from other sources have proven essential in the club’s chase for promotion. Moritz Heyer has struck on six occasions throughout the campaign – a stellar effort from the 27-year-old who traditionally plays on the right side of defence. Young talent has also broken through at the Volksparkstadion – 21-year-old pair Josha Vagnoman and Anssi Suhonen have both found the net twice while Reis has struck five times since his arrival last summer. Faride Alidou also scored twice during the campaign, but will be moving to Eintracht Frankfurt on a free transfer this summer.

Tim Walter has been the man to finally get Hamburg over the line and back in the top-flight after a number of near misses since relegation in 2018. - Oliver Hardt/Bundesliga/DFL

Walter’s arrival to HSV last summer was met with both optimism and hesitation, but he has allowed Hamburg to play with a renewed sense of confidence that had been lacking for too long. In the closing stages of the season he has pushed HSV over the line at a moment of the campaign where the club have been haunted by three almost identical stumbles at the final hurdle.

"It is a blessing to play for this club,” said left-back Tim Leibold earlier in the season. "HSV is really one of the hottest clubs in Germany. The structures are great, the conditions excellent, the support unique – there are not many clubs in Germany that can offer such a package, a maximum of two or three other clubs."

The club infamously bragged of their constant Bundesliga status with a digital clock detailing the time elapsed of HSV’s long stay in the top division. Now the one-time European Cup winners are close to turning the clock back in the other direction – counting down the days until they make their long-awaited Bundesliga return.