Cologne - Still in contention in three competitions - second in the Bundesliga and still involved in both the DFB Cup and UEFA Europa League - it seemed an odd time for anyone, let alone a key member of the starting line-up, to leave VfL Wolfsburg during the winter transfer window.

Yet that is precisely what Ivica Olic decided, turning his back on the chance of silverware to join Hamburger SV, a club entrenched in the relegation quagmire and just two points off the bottom of the table. Unfathomable as the decision may appear to outsiders, this was a Herzensangelegenheit - as they say in Germany - a matter of the heart.

'A great character'


The 35-year-old Croatian was returning to his true love on an 18-month deal, eight years to the day after he had first moved to the Imtech Arena in January 2007. "I had a wonderful time at Wolfsburg and am proud to have been a part of the team," said Olic, "but going back to Hamburg is another massive challenge." It was in Hamburg that the Croatian - whose wife Natalie, incidentally, is a HSV fan - first made a name for himself in the Bundesliga, scoring 29 times in 78 games and winning over the club's supporters with his action-man style and tireless running.

"He's a great character and as a player he's a great addition to the strikers we already have," said Peter Knäbel, who signed Olic while sporting director, but has since taken over as interim coach after the club parted company with Joe Zinnbauer at the end of March. "His attitude and charisma are both first class. He was our number one target and I'm delighted for him and our fans that he's returned to the club."

Emotional departure


That is not to say, however, that Olic took the decision lightly. Indeed, emotions were running high in Wolfsburg at the time of the transfer following the tragic death of young Belgian midfielder Junior Malanda at the start of January. Olic was overwhelmed by the news and gave a moving interview on the passing of his team-mate: "It's very hard to find the right words. Our sorrow sits deep and my thoughts are with Junior's family. It was a great shock for the team. We couldn't believe it and I kept thinking it wasn't true, that he would be coming back. We are all grieving."

It was against that backdrop that Olic left the club and if facing his former team-mates for the first time on Matchday 28 presents the evergreen front man with a potentially complex web of emotions to disentangle, it is perhaps just as well that sentiment will be put to one side when Hamburg host Wolfsburg on Saturday.

Must-win game


The teams' respective fortunes have changed little since Olic switched allegiances. The Wolves are still second in the Bundesliga and competing on three fronts, while Hamburg remain just two points off the bottom following a dispiriting 4-0 defeat by Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Matchday 27. All that matters now for Olic and the increasingly desperate hosts are three points to help stave off a first ever relegation from the Bundesliga.

Olic has thus far not had the desired impact in the final third at HSV and is yet to add to the five goals he scored for the Wolves in the first half of the season. Somewhat ironically, his departure gave Bas Dost a clear path to the Wolfsburg starting line-up and the Dutchman, who has scored 11 league goals since the turn of the year, will lead the charge against Hamburg this weekend.

At the opposite end of the pitch Olic will seek to end his goal drought, and he has been encouraged to shoot on sight by Knäbel. "Our problem was that we weren't clinical enough when we had chances," said the coach after the Leverkusen defeat. "If you shoot then it may well go in, but if you don't pull the trigger then you have no chance of scoring." It would no doubt make for an intriguing narrative if Olic were to help Hamburg to an unlikely triumph. But, as his transfer shows, when it comes to the unexpected, Olic has previous.