In one of the more surprising moves of the season, Hertha Berlin coach and former Bayern Munich manager Jürgen Klinsmann announced he was stepping down as manager only 76 days after agreeing to take the position. He went 3-3-4 in his 10 games in charge.
Die Alte Dame, one of the two big footballing names in the German capital, has now been led by four managers since January 2019. After Pál Dárdai resigned to take a youth coaching role within the club, Hertha hired Croatian Ante Čović.
Under Čović, Hertha underperformed. The club had impressive young talent join them over the summer, including midfielder Dodi Lukebakio, but they couldn’t find a way to work together and produce results. Despite a surprising 2-2 draw with Bayern to start the season, the club reached a low point in late October when they fell within range of the relegation playoff zone. The board elected to fire Čović in late November.
In stepped a German coaching legend in Klinsmann.
After he was fired by the U.S. Soccer Federation in the middle of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification, Klinsmann had been in coaching purgatory. No one in the U.S. wanted him and, after dedicating years of his life in America, Klinsmann found his options limited.
Eager to get back into coaching, Klinsmann abruptly accepted a position at Hertha as a board member and manager in the wake of Čović’s sacking.
Ante Covic is no longer head coach of Hertha BSC. After intensive discussions, @michaelpreetz and @antecovic14 mutually agreed to terminate his contract. @J_Klinsmann will take over until the end of the season.— Hertha Berlin (@HerthaBSC_EN) November 27, 2019
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His first two matches came against Dortmund and Frankfurt, losing the first and drawing the second respectively. But following that came a win over top sides Freiburg and Bayer Leverkusen and a draw against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Going into the Winterpause, Hertha seemed to feel that momentum was on their side.
During the transfer window, Hertha started spending big, using over €76 million (the most in the Bundesliga) to purchase up-and-coming talent:
Klinsmann has stepped down from his coaching role at #Hertha. Complaint about a lack of backing. No other club spent more in the winter transfer window then the capital club...— Manuel Veth (@ManuelVeth) February 11, 2020
Link to @TMusa_news story https://t.co/lGqrQs3Wvw pic.twitter.com/C6ZYZEJxVl
But the weeks to come spelled doom for Hertha. A 4-0 beatdown from Bayern was quickly papered over with a win over Wolfsburg. A draw against a good Schalke 04 side wasn’t the end of the world, but a loss to Mainz the following week stumped any progress Hertha made.
The club hoped that Klinsmann would rally the troops and find more momentum to survive this season.
Instead, that game would be his last in charge.
One of Klinsmann’s assistants, Alexander Nouri, is now faced with the tough task of keeping this club in the top flight.
Although Klinsmann’s record at the club may not seem very impressive at first glance, Klinsmann defended the results of his brief tenure (Bild):
I took over a suicide mission and in only in one match did I come out worse than I hoped. The coaching staff successfully stabilized the team and brought it out of the relegation zone. I’m confident that the boys will avoid relegation. And with aplomb.
Klinsmann was particularly upset that he was also not made the team’s sporting director responsible for transfers. He said,
In my view, a coach — according to the English model — should have complete sporting authority. Hence, also over transfers. That gives the position considerably more power. With sporting directors and board members for sport, that has developed differently in Gemany. I couldn’t find myself there. Too much energy is wasted on things off the pitch.
In his public announcement via Facebook, Klinsmann reiterated this perceived lack of support from the club that would have enabled him to continue:
But for this job, which is not done yet, as the head coach I need the trust of the acting persons. Especially in a relegation battle unity, team spirit and focus on the basics are the most important elements. If they are not guaranteed, I can’t live up to my potential as a head coach and fulfil my responsibility. That’s why, after long consideration, I have come to the conclusion that I will leave my post as the Hertha Berlin head coach and return to my initial long-term task as a member of the supervisory board.
Read that last part again: after publicly rebuking the club for failing to “trust” him (after giving him €76 million worth of players) and then leaving Hertha in coaching limbo in the midst of a relegation battle, Klinsmann will STILL be on the board.
Berlin is now in desperation mode to stay up. Nouri has top-flight experience: his was last in charge of Werder Bremen in 2017, before he was replaced by current coach Florian Kohfeldt mid-season. He was dismissed and later joined 2. Bundesliga side FC Ingolstadt 04, who also sacked Nouri in a matter of months.
As the frantic search begins, one name not under consideration (according to AZ) is former Bayern manager Niko Kovac. True to his word as ever, Kovac stated he did not want to take a coaching job until next season, giving himself time to reflect on his time in Bavaria.
The already hard job of staying up just got harder for Hertha. With the success of crosstown-rivals Union Berlin, we may see a surprise shift of footballing power in the German capital for the first time in years — investor Lars Windhorst’s millions notwithstanding!