Anyone who wanted to get an impression of the sporting misery that prevails at the “old aunt” Hertha BSC Berlin made a pilgrimage to the Arena at Schalke last Friday evening. There, bottom of the table Schalke asked the table penultimate from the capital to a relegation duel in front of a full house. Exactly 61,981 spectators wanted to watch the game. It wasn’t, everyone knew, about good football, but about fighting, sweating and – depending on – tears or triumph.

Ultimately, the home side were responsible for the triumph. Motivated Schalke defeated a Berlin team 5:2, which at times would have wished referee Felix Brych to end the game prematurely in order to alleviate the torment of the fans and players a little. To the chagrin of the Hertha supporters, there is no such rule in football and the crisis of the “old aunt” became all too clear over the entire length of the game: the team was deeply insecure, jittery and in many scenes not ready for the first division. The big exception was Marco Richter, who gave it his all. But one player alone cannot compensate for the poor performances of the other ten players on the pitch. Hertha is now bottom of the table and has six games to avert the catastrophe of relegation.

Coach Sandro Schwarz, who only came at the beginning of the season, was no longer believed to be capable of the task. Black was unable to form a stable unit out of Hertha. The team has never been better than 13th place this season. The sporting oath of disclosure on Friday evening was followed by the usual mechanisms in the industry: crisis meeting, dismissal of the coach and appointment of an interim coach who is supposed to save the club from relegation. The “savior” is called Pal Dardai. Hertha’s record player is now doing the job for the third time. When all else fails, people in Berlin fall back on the tried and tested. The problem: Dardai will not solve the club’s fundamental problems either. Because they go deeper and are the result of a development that has caused a shake of the head, despair or big laughs in recent years. Depending on how you looked at the capital club.

In the past year alone, the club changed the entire leadership once. The coach, president, head of sport and investor had to go, as did the head of finance, squad planner and chief scout. “The constant upheaval is the only constant,” wrote the specialist magazine “kicker”. Perhaps Black didn’t stand a chance as a coach in such an environment.

The personnel upheavals and the sporting decline have their origin in a decision that was made in 2019. It is the starting point of numerous negative developments that have since brought the club to the brink of collapse. At that time, investor Lars Windhorst and his Tennor Holding B.V. at Hertha. It was a sensation that Hertha was to become the next big thing in German football. Windhorst wanted to use his money to form a big club that would play at the top both nationally and internationally. In addition, the controversial investor coined the unfortunate word Big City Club. Even then, the industry was amused by the term – and their mockery was right: Hertha has since fallen from one crisis to the next.

In figures: Windhorst pumped 374 million euros into the club – without countable sporting income. Debts, expensive transfers (including consultant fees) and the loss of income in the corona crisis ate up the money. How Hertha would have survived without the investor millions is not entirely clear. Only athletic Grandessa didn’t show up. On the contrary: all the money intensified the intrigues and trench warfare.

At Windhorst’s instigation, Jürgen Klinsmann was brought in as a trainer. The blond Swabian who lives in California should turn the club upside down in terms of sport and structure. However, the commitment quickly turned out to be one of the biggest misunderstandings that German club football has perhaps ever experienced. In February 2021, three months after taking up the post of coach, Klinsmann resigned, surprising everyone (especially the club management) and with a loud bang.

Since then, the type of separation has been part of the anecdotal treasure chest of the Bundesliga. Klinsmann published a statement on Facebook at the time. In the relegation battle, he could “not fully exploit his potential as a coach,” he wrote. Days later, Klinsmann’s notes became known in which he gave Hertha a disastrous certificate. He spoke of a “lying culture” and fundamentally criticized the club: “The club has no performance culture, only vested interests and there is no charisma in the management.” Previously, he had just spent 80 million euros on winter transfers, which turned out to be a complete bad investment. He was also rid of his job as a member of the supervisory board.

The Klinsmann episode revealed deep distortions in the entire club management for the first time. Investor Windhorst shot President Werner Gegenbauer and manager Michael Preetz, who in turn did not want to bow to the investor’s lust for power. Preetz finally vacated the position as manager in January 2021 after eleven and a half years. He was followed in the summer by Fredi Bobic, who assumed when he took up his post that he would be able to draw on full funds. That was a mistake. Bobic suddenly saw himself in the role of saver and renovator.

In the summer of 2022, Hertha-Ultra Kay Bernstein succeeded Werner Gegenbauer as President. In his application speech at the general meeting, he spoke of “an honest new start” and “detoxification from within”, and the association also needed a “civil peace”. Bernstein knew what he was getting himself into. In January, Windhorst publicly announced that he regretted investing in Hertha. This, in turn, apparently did not stop him from hiring an Israeli private detective agency to stir up sentiment against Gegenbauer on social media, as a media report in autumn 2022 revealed.

Bernstein solved the problem by bringing another investor on board, the US investment group 777 Partners. The Americans took over 64.7 percent of Hertha BSC KGaA from Windhorst in March. That was of no use to Bobic. The manager was fired by Hertha in January when cooperation with 777 Partners became apparent. The “Sport Bild” spoke of a “mud fight”.

At the same time, the sporting decline continued over the years. Bruno Labbadia kept Hertha in the Bundesliga in 2020, Pal Dardai (on his second engagement) saved the game in 2021, but was then fired by Bobic because he didn’t trust him to develop the team. Instead, Bobic installed the hapless Tayfun Korkut, who was replaced by Felix Magath in March 2022. Magath saved Hertha from relegation in the relegation against Hamburger SV. With the new season, Schwarz took over, who has now been replaced again by Dardai. Sequel follows.

Sources: “”, “kicker”, “Tagesspiegel”, rbb24, “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, “Sportbuzzer”, “Sport Bild”, “Süddeutsche Zeitung”