by Ben Loder
As a part-time HSV fan (the rest of the time being devoted to city rivals St. Pauli – a feat probably easier to achieve safely here in Hamburg itself than it would be in Glasgow, where Celtic and Rangers maintain close relationships with St. Pauli and HSV respectively), I was sorry to see Peruvian forward Paolo Guerrero move to Corinthians this week for a fee believed to be around €5 million. You always knew something was likely to happen when he was around. His nickname, the Warrior, is simply his surname translated, but he lives up to it. And it’s still more interesting than the British custom of adding “-ey” to the end of any player’s name.
Guerrero’s history of controversial behaviour ranges from crashing his sports car into a taxi, to picking up a five-match ban for lobbing a bottle at a loud-mouthed fan (who probably deserved it) with the accuracy of a Major League pitcher http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWPYumMY5kU and, last season, launching this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=738xSRAew44 outrageous attack on Stuttgart goalkeeper Sven Ullreich, beating his own personal suspension record of six matches (for insulting a referee) and earning himself the fourth-longest suspension in Bundesliga history – eight games – in the process. In that regard, Guerrero may have reason to feel aggrieved. Not because of the punishment itself, but his vilification in the press in view of the fact that serial hack, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glZ1LYnbck0&feature=related stamp http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33zQiY6Vim4&feature=player_detailpage#t=32s and dive http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAyjBjBFP9g&feature=related merchant Jermaine Jones was recently nominated for 11 Freunde magazine’s “Character of the year” award.
In any case, the Bundesliga will be a less interesting place for neutrals after Guerrero’s exit, but the departure is a more serious issue for HSV coach Thorsten Fink. After arriving midway through last season from the surprise package of the Champions League, FC Basel, the former Bayern Munich midfielder guided his new club, known as the Bundesliga dinosaur, away from what would have been their first ever relegation. The final league position of 15th was still the worst in the club’s history however, and better is expected this time around. With the (admittedly lacklustre last season) Mladen Petrić having been snapped up by Fulham – the Croatian striker will have to show a renewed hunger if he is to match Reading-bound Pavel Pogrebnyak’s post-Bundesliga impact at Craven Cottage – options up front had already diminished before Guerrero said his goodbyes. And while his six league goals in 23 appearances last season seem unimpressive compared to his top-scoring five in five at the 2011 Copa America, his role in the side should not be underestimated. His exit leaves HSV with no forward really adept at holding the ball up and, given that Guerrero seemed to take more touches with his chest than his feet last season, this lack of a target man could be a real problem. Unless, of course, Fink is planning a change of style in his first full season at the Imtech Arena. If that is the case, the combination of the transfer fee and wages freed up by the departure of the club’s top earner will be very helpful.
Talented Basel midfielder Granit Xhaka may have opted for the possibility of another season in the Champions League with Borussia Mönchengladbach rather than teaming up with his former boss, but rumours of a return to northern Germany for Rafael van der Vaart persist. That would certainly provide a boost to a team that looked desperately short of creativity in midfield last season, but it remains to be seen whether the Dutch maestro would really be tempted by a return to the club where he produced arguably the best football of his career. In any case, HSV have already admitted that the Guerrero money would not be enough to cover the costs of a transfer from Tottenham. Hamburg businessman and HSV fan Klaus-Michael Kühne (who also played a role in signing Guerrero to HSV in 2006) has offered to help finance a deal for van der Vaart – a suggestion that would be jumped at in most leagues, but meets sterner opposition in Germany, where clubs remain at least 51% owned by fans and heavy outside investment is viewed with suspicion. That reluctance – whilst in some ways commendable – could prove to be a major issue, as Fink’s squad is in serious need of an overhaul. As well as being light up top and generally short of flair, the centre of midfield needed strengthening even before the exit of the ageing but diligent David Jarolím. And at the back, Heiko Westermann and Dennis Aogo somehow went from Euro 2012 hopefuls to looking like a credible Laurel and Hardy tribute act over the course of last season. The plan had been to strengthen at the back by bringing in Basel centre back David Abraham on a free transfer. The Argentinian is still keen on the move, but rather scuppered his own chances by signing a pre-contract agreement with Getafe CF in January. The Spanish club are willing to let him go before he even makes his Liga BBVA debut – but only for a fee of €4 million.
So all in all, the summer thus far has been as bleak for HSV fans as the weather in northern Germany. And unless Thorsten Fink and sporting director Frank Arnesen can turn the loss of Paolo Guerrero very cannily to their advantage, the Rothosen could yet wave goodbye to the top division for the first time in their 125-year history next season.