He arrived with the greatest of expectations, but few could really have predicted the difference one single player could have made to Hamburg's fortunes. That man is Rafael van der Vaart, one half a mutual love affair between club and player that appears to have been rekindled to the staisfaction of both parties.
Van der Vaart arrived from Tottenham Hotspur on transfer deadline day in August, with Hamburg making a substantial finacial sacrifice to regain the services of the man who last led them into the Champions League. After three defeats in a row - four including an embarrassing DFB Cup exit at Third Division Karlsruhe - the gamble was an understandable one and it certainly appears to be paying off. The once-and-future playmaker has contributed one goal and four assists in his four games and has hauled HSV off the bottom of the league table in the process.
On Saturday, Van der Vaart was named in an all-time greatest HSV XI at a gala evening to commemorate the club's 125th anniversary. His place alongside the likes of Kevin Keegan and Uli Stein was not secured on four games alone, but certainly his arrival at the only club never to have been relegated from the top flight of German football refreshed the memory of exactly what fans can look forward to for the remainder of the season, and beyond.
Sharing the limelight
Yet Hamburg's resurgence is not all down to one man alone. Goalkeeper Rene Adler can take an equal share of share of the praise for some match-winning performances - not least in keeping Borussia Dortmund at bay as HSV ended the champions' long unbeaten run, followed by last weekend's remarkable clean sheet against Hannover 96. While he may not yet have done enough to play his way back into the Germany squad, there is no longer any doubt among the club's supporters that signing Adler - another gamble considering his injury background - is a worthy number one.
Adler earned a good few votes himself from the guests at Saturday's gala to join van der Vaart in the select XI. He may have to reproduce his current form for a few more years to truly warrant such an accolade, but the calls were a clear enough recognition of his newfound status. "Rene was sensational - he has won another game for us," said a delighted van der Vaart of his teammate after the win over Hannover.
Three games do not make a season and HSV will be fully aware of the hard work that still lies ahead this season, but there is an unmistakable sense of optimism around the place, barely a trace of which would have been found three weeks into the season.
"We want to win [in Furth] and carry on this streak," said coach Thorsten Fink only minutes after Hannover had been defeated. "I am very pleased with our development and we are certainly heading in the right direction. But we must keep our feet on the ground. Things often change very quickly at HSV and nobody should suddenly start dreaming of Europe."
That was the mistake they made shortly after Fink arrived from FC Basel last season. He initially revived the team's fortunes, only to end the year with the worst season on record. They will surely have learnt from the past. Besides, they did not have van der Vaart or Adler back then.