Hertha BSC have been struggling in the league not only recently, but throughout the season and for the best part of the last two at least. If the successful play-offs against Hamburg at the end of last season saved them from the drop, this time round, the inevitable seems inevitable (The preventable is unavoidable): Hertha will go down and need a minor miracle to escape once more.
In terms of crisis, people, just as football clubs, turn to adhere to patterns that are re-assuring and offer stability and calm. For people, this often means calling upon their patron Sant, God almighty or whomever else they refer to as the most reassuring instance. Hertha BSC, Berlin’s wanna-be-top football club, turn to one of their most unlikely heroes: their best Pál Dárdai.
The move is somewhat understandable as he has saved them from relegation last season and is briefed with repeating the feat. However, the odds are very different from last year. Then, there were eight games to play, now, there are only six left. This season, Hertha have only 22 points from 28 matches so far – a meagre yield and even less than last year’s 26 at the same stage of the season; they would eventually finish on 33 points in 2022, level with Stuttgart who were in 15th place because of their superior goal difference. This season, the gap to 15th place is 5 points, to the relegation place, 2. The remainder sees them pitched against Bayern, Werder, Stuttgart, Bochum, Cologne, and Wolfsburg – arguably no easy task.
Pál Dárdai is no unknown quantity for Hertha as he has played for the club between 1997 and 2011, becoming the club’s record player in the process with 297 games. The frequent coaching changes have of course contributed to the situation the club find themselves in: since July 2012, Hertha have hired and fired 10 coaches, Dárdai among them – twice. Among those who came and tried were Jürgen Klinsmann, Bruno Labbadia, Sandro Schwarz and Felix Magath. Qualification for Europe has only been achieved on a couple of occasions, creating false hopes and leading to more despair.
During the same decade, Hertha have welcomed three different investors; twice the rewards were just not coming. In January 2014, private equity company KKR invested 61.2 m Euros for 9.7% of the shares. The club has rebought the shares in 2018. Just over 6 months later, the tycoon Lars Windhorst acquired 37.5% of Hertha, which translated into €125m fresh cash; in total, Windhorst and his Tennor Holding invested more than €370m, and he terminated his involvement with Hertha by stating that it was a mistake. Despite this money, the club failed to improve and Windhorst sold his shares in October ’22 to the investment group 777, which also hold shares of various other European clubs, such as Red Star FC, Genoa among others. Whatever the reasons, Hertha have burnt a lot of money for next to no reward.
With all this unrest off pitch, it is clear that no good work was possible for the team and the results were just not coming their way. The club have come back to square one – or so it seems. In comes Pál Dárdai.
To an external observer, it appears that Dárdai is the incarnation of calm and reassurance. He is not a miracle man, though he managed to keep the club up last season. This, his third incarnation as coach of Hertha, is the most difficult and in fact the most moribund of his engagements. However, he did state that he did not hesitate when the call came and was happy to accept the offer. He has little time at his disposal to work with the squad but seems dedicated to making things work and hopes to get the best possible response from the team. The sporting director, Benjamin Weber, is quoted as stating that he is happy that Dárdai accepted the task – again. He added that Dárdai has shown twice in the past that he can stabilise a team and get them out of a tricky situation. If this happens for a third time remains to be seen.
It is, however, quite astonishing to see Hertha wasting this amount of money only to return to the in-house solution in times of trouble. For now, Pál Dárdai is Hertha’s best Pál.