“Die Zukunft gehört Berlin” – the future belongs to Berlin: for new Hertha Berlin coach Jürgen Klinsmann that is more than just the club’s slogan. It’s a challenge he has taken to heart as he sets about making it a reality.
“For years now there have been great hopes in Berlin,” Klinsmann said at his unveiling. “People I’ve met on the streets – and I have a connection because my son was here – they said, ‘yeah, Berlin is waiting for something special. Berlin has the potential. Berlin is a sleeping giant. But somehow it just doesn’t get going.’”
Which brings us to a second motivation. Family ties may have drawn Klinsmann back to the Bundesliga, but nothing gets his pulse racing quite like the prospect of a challenge.
He oversaw the beginning of the German national team’s transition from frustrated heavyweight into a serious global player again between 2004 and 2006, and implemented innovative structural changes at Bayern Munich’s training complex as head coach in 2008/09. He also helped return an underperforming United States men’s national team into a regional powerhouse once again.
With German businessman Lars Windhorst increasing his stake in Hertha last summer and eager for a return on investment, there is no better candidate than Klinsmann for the remodel.
For the time being at least, Klinsmann’s focus is simply on picking up points, having taken over after Matchday 12 with only goal difference keeping the Old Lady out of the bottom three.
“The priority right now is really just avoiding relegation and climbing the table as fast as possible,” he told bundesliga.com on Matchday 20, when his side drew 0-0 with Schalke to increase their buffer on the drop zone to six points.
Watch: Hertha were held by Schalke, bot not for the want of trying!
In the medium to long term, though, he has something very different in mind. “After that we want to excite. To excite the players and give them a vision, give them a picture where they see themselves really excited to be part of the development.”
And when tied in with Klinsmann’s frequent references to a “big club” wanting “success”, it becomes clear that lower to midtable finishes - Hertha have ended up 10th or below in six of the past 10 seasons, suffering relegation twice – are no longer enough.
All the right noises are being made, then. But what does it mean in concrete terms? Piatek gave a clear indication when he was introduced to German media earlier this week: “I hope to play in the Champions League here, next year or in the future. That’s the plan. I think we can achieve it, 100 per cent.”
Such lofty ambitions also go some way to explaining Klinsmann’s “disappointment and frustration” after losing to Schalke in the DFB Cup last 16. It was not just a loss against a good opponent in a competition they have never won. It was a setback – an unwanted and unexpected delay in the workflow.
Pitfalls are inevitable in any project, though. So how does Klinsmann intend to elevate a club who last won the German title in 1931?
“Step by step” is a mantra he repeats often, but its frequency should not diminish its value. Small, achievable goals are set, and when they are accomplished the next goal is targeted.
Watch: Klinsmann elaborates on his goals with Hertha
“That’s what I tell my staff every day,” Klinsmann said. “I tell them ‘great work’. Let’s get up earlier and work more and then sooner or later we shift our objectives to keep going forward. And then we’ll see where we are in a couple of months from now.”
For instance, in order to help pull clear of the relegation zone, Klinsmann cut short the team’s holidays over the winter break and they were the only top-flight squad to resume training in 2019. They may have started the year with defeat to Bayern, but four points from matches against Wolfsburg and Schalke have followed.
“We’re now in a very different situation to the one we were in eight weeks ago when I started here,” he emphasised. “We’ve got more security and there’s more flow to our game.”
The winter signings are also significant – and not only for their quality in improving the squad. Klinsmann aims to harness their work ethic to raise the performances of others around them.
“Piatek’s hunger and determination are very, very important to us,” the 55-year-old said. “I want him to lead the younger players with this type of hunger and standing, making it difficult for opponents.
“We were looking for players who are difference makers and who could give us a jump in quality. We wanted to show the players that are already here that there’s a lot more to come.
"And it makes them want to work more and get even better […] We think about where is Cunha today? And where can he be in two, four or six years? And so on. And that’s why we’re excited.”
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