Having already seen three different men in charge this season, the revolving doors of the Olympiastadion were on the verge of flying off their hinges when 54-year-old German Bruno Labbadia walked through in April.
Hertha Berlin’s managerial merry-go-round has been in full swing since the 2019-20 Bundesliga season kicked off in August of last year. Three esteemed managers tried their hand in the capital prior to Labbadia’s arrival; Ante Čović, Jurgen Klinsmann and Alexander Nouri. None of the trio could undo the sorry state their predecessor left the club in, nor could they prise the true potential out of the experienced squad they were given.
The efforts of the three managers across the first two-thirds of the season saw Die Alte Dame enter the lengthy coronavirus ceasefire a mere six points clear of the drop.
Playing football that lacked ambition, drive and the crucial final product (all-the-while acting second-fiddle to newly-promoted rivals Union Berlin), it was a nervous time for the blue side of Berlin. The passionate Olympiastadion faithful grew desperate for a hero. Enter Bruno Labbadia.
Labbadia joined the club several months earlier than planned in April when German journeyman Nouri’s ephemeral interim tenure was no longer required. Immediately he hit the ground running. Despite squeezing in just a handful of training sessions before his first competitive match in charge, the 54-year-old demonstrated that Hertha were serious contenders with a shock 0-3 win on the road against TSG Hoffenheim. It was though he’d been at the helm for longer than a measly few weeks.
Granted, he was blessed with Klinsmann’s fabulous January signings – Matheus Cunha and Krzysztof Piatek – at his disposal, but even veterans such as Vedad Ibisevic were playing top-drawer football like never before.
There was a renewed sense of ambition around the club, which was reflected on the pitch. To utilise the old cliché, Labbadia’s men looked a totally different side to the one that Klinsmann had departed just months earlier. The football was quick and incise, focussed more on the attacking third of the pitch. Fast approach play saw the pacy wingers dart up the pitch and find Ibisevic as the target man, often forcing the slower defenders to pay the ultimate price.
The new-look Hertha Berlin has also tightened up its defensive outfit, as no-nonsense centre-backs Dedryck Boyata (formerly of Glasgow Celtic) and Jordan Torunarigha have moulded almost unrecognisably into confident ball-players who are instrumental in kickstarting Die Alte Dame’s trademark blink-of-an-eye counterattack.
Unsurprisingly, the fresh philosophy that Labbadia has brought to the club has paid dividends since the resumption of the Bundesliga.
Once languishing just above the relegation places, Hertha have flown out the blocks under Labbadia, securing 10 points from a possible 12. In just four games, they’ve found the net 11 times (four from counterattacks) and conceded only twice – both of which came in the 2-2 draw away at title-chasing RB Leipzig.
The three wins – 0-3 away at Hoffenheim, 4-0 at home to Union Berlin and a 2-0 win over FC Augsburg, also at the Olympiastadion – have seen Hertha leap up the standings into ninth, just four points shy of the Europa League qualifying spot.
Additionally, while the locked-down world’s attention is on the Bundesliga, the top performers are quickly earning global superstar status. Among these newfound starlets is 21-year-old January-signing Cunha.
The versatile Brazilian moved to the German capital from RB Leipzig for an undisclosed fee believed to be in the region of £18m. He has caught the eyes of the world with his dancing footwork, blistering pace and, of course, his eye for goal. In his seven matches for Hertha, Cunha has found the net four times.
With just five games remaining of this campaign, it is of paramount importance that Hertha keep up this dream resumption should they wish for the European competition that their squad is worthy of.
It is no easy task as they prepare for one of the toughest run-ins imaginable with each opponent sitting above them in the table and too gunning for continental football next season. Bruno Labbadia stands their best chance of pulling off what was once the impossible.