Jos Luhukay (l.) led Hertha BSC Berlin back up to the Bundesliga nine points clear of Torsten Lieberknecht's (r.) second-placed Eintracht Braunschweig. (Image © Imago)
Jos Luhukay (l.) led Hertha BSC Berlin back up to the Bundesliga nine points clear of Torsten Lieberknecht's (r.) second-placed Eintracht Braunschweig. (Image © Imago)

Luhukay strengthening Hertha with familiar faces

Berlin - Back in the Bundesliga at the first attempt, as second-flight champions, with the final home game of the season played out before a division-record crowd of more than 77,000 at the Olympic Stadium.

Modest aspirations for the moment

So it went for Hertha Berlin in 2010/11. In the light of what followed - a chaotic campaign overseen by three different head coaches and one caretaker duo, culminating in renewed relegation by way of the play-offs - club and supporters in like measure are approaching their return to the top table under near-identical circumstances with a due measure of circumspection.

Once again, Hertha have bounced back at the first time of asking, once again as division title-winners and to the exceedingly healthy backdrop of 40,000-strong average attendances. Germany's capital, and most populous city by far, might reasonably be expected to have great expectations of its leading football team. Praising the "fantastic conditions" for the opening summer training camp at nearby Bad Saarow, however, head coach Jos Luhukay simultaneously issued a reminder of the overriding priority for the campaign ahead, noting: "I'm sure we can lay the foundations here for our bid to remain in the Bundesliga".

Simply staying afloat is the mantra invariably and wisely espoused by clubs freshly arrived from Bundesliga 2. Eintracht Frankfurt were sticking to it for much of the season just past, even as their internal aspirations were gradually gravitating towards Europe. Such success stories, while far from unprecedented, remain very much the exception though. The fate of Hertha's predecessors as Bundesliga 2 top dogs, Greuther Fürth, is in fact more representative of the travails of many a newly-promoted outfit.

Old acquaintances not forgotten

The men from Berlin are determined to hang around for altogether longer this time and to that end, Luhukay has been busily reinforcing the squad which did such an admirable job of achieving last season's target. Notably, however, the new faces on the books thus far are by and large very familiar ones to the 50-year-old Dutchman. Sebastian Langkamp, for example, has been brought in to further strengthen a defence which leaked just 28 league goals in 2012/13. The 25-year-old centre back spent the previous two campaigns helping FC Augsburg stay afloat in the Bundesliga, the first of those under Luhukay.

Hajime Hosogai likewise played a key role in steering Augsburg to safety in their debut top-flight season in 2011/12 and Luhukay seized the opportunity to snap up the versatile Japanese defensive talent from Bayer Leverkusen on a four-year deal. As well as playing at centre-back, Hosogai can be deployed equally effectively in a holding midfield capacity, offering his once-and-future coach fresh options there alongside skipper Peter Niemeyer and Peer Kluge, who formed an outstanding deep-lying partnership last season.

Fresh midfield options

In the attacking midfield department, Luhukay has brought in two players he got to know during his tenure at Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2007/08. Left-sided specialist Johannes van den Bergh, who can also play at full back, arrives from relegated Fortuna Düsseldorf eager to add his pace and dynamism to Hertha's wide game. Former Germany Under-21 international Alexander Baumjohann meanwhile brings the promise of a further touch of class to the central midfield, where, in his own words, "all eyes were on Ronny last season, a burden he often had to carry on his own. Hopefully I can play a part in helping take some of the weight off his shoulders".

Indeed, the Brazilian playmaker and Adrian Ramos, the latter more often than not operating as the lone striker, were the heart and soul of the Hertha attack. Ronny was the division's second-highest scorer on 18 goals, chipping in with 15 assists for good measure. Ramos netted a fairly modest-looking 11, but eight of those secured his side the vital 1-0 lead, above and beyond which the Colombian frontman's selfless workrate and ability to fend off opponents and hold up the ball were duly noted by pundits and fans alike.

Good communicator

In short, Luhukay is building on proven solid foundations with the thoroughness and attention to detail which has helped ensure his personal star as a top-level coach remains on the rise. Asked to describe the man who got Augsburg into the Bundesliga and kept them there against the odds, van den Bergh summarised him as "a meticulous worker who knows what he wants, and how to get it across".

As coach and players knuckle down in idyllic surroundings on the shores of Brandenburg's Lake Scharmützel, Hertha Berlin look to be in safe hands for their latest assault on the Bundesliga - both out on the pitch, and ensconced on the touchline.

Angus Davison