1899 Hoffenheim were beaten 1-0 at home by Bayern Munich on Sunday leaving Marco Kurz’s side 5 points below the relegation playoff spot, 11 points behind VfL Wolfsburg in the last safety position and on a run of 4 consecutive defeats.
The “project club” flew through the divisions between 2006 and 2008 with a wealthy investment from Dietmar Hopp which allowed the club to hire experienced coach Ralf Rangnick as well as a number of Bundesliga-quality players to play outside the German top flight on healthy wage packets.
Bundesliga’s Surprise Package
During the first 17 games in their first ever Bundesliga season of 2008/09, Hoffenheim were the Autumn Champion; leaders of the table during the winter break, collecting 35 points. The squad included a number of talented players, including Vedad Ibisevic (now at VfB Stuttgart), Demba Ba (now at Chelsea FC) and Chinedu Obasi (now at Schalke 04), Luiz Gustavo (now at Bayern Munich), Carlos Eduardo (now at Rubin Kazan), Sejad Salihovic (still at the club), Andreas Beck (still at the club), Marvin Compper (now at Fiorentina) and Timo Hildebrand (now at Schalke 04).
They were an exciting and confident team to watch during those first 17 games when they burst on the scene in Germany in 2008. Fans and pundits weren’t sure what to expect of them that season. They had only secured promotion as runners-up by 2 points, they had invested heavily in a lot of potential rather than proven stars, and they had an experienced head coach at the reigns. Few would have expected them to be top.
That was only half a season. When they returned in January for the second half the pressure began to take its toll on the team. Points were quickly dropped against relegation-battling Borussia Mönchengladbach, thrashed at home by a mediocre Bayer Leverkusen side and held by title-chasing VfB Stuttgart. In the end, Hoffenheim fell 14 points short of eventual champions VfL Wolfsburg and in 7th position. But there would always be next season, right?
Hoffenheim would finish 11th for the following two seasons. And after a promising couple of opening games last season, which included a 1-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund, Hoffenheim settled for 11th place once again.
Ralf Rangnick’s resignation midway through the 2010/11 season was the start of an unstable period for Hoffenheim. The current RB Leipzig sporting director had guided the project club to successive promotions and a top-half finish in the Bundesliga during a four and a year spell. Since his departure little more than two years ago, Hoffenheim have hired four full-time head coaches and had Frank Kramer in charge for a few games as caretaker.
Marco Pezzaiuoli took charge for the second half of the 2010/11 season, winning just 5 of his 17 games in charge before promptly leaving the role. Pezzaiuoli, who had been Rangnick’s assistant has not had a head coach role since.
Holger Stanislawski took charge ahead of the 2011/12 season, and after an initial positive start the season being to die out before Christmas. The now 1. FC Köln head coach was out of Hoffenheim in early February that season and replaced by Markus Babbel who was an up-and-coming coach after guiding Hertha BSC Berlin to promotion.
Babbel led the side to a mid-table finish but after a terrible start to this campaign was gone during the first week of December. Frank Kramer took charge until the winter break and now Marco Kurz has stepped in with no positive effect on the club.
Kurz has picked up just 4 points from his first 7 league games and anything less than a victory at bottom of the league Greuther Fürth this weekend could leave his position in jeopardy. Hoffenheim have some favourable fixtures for the remainder of the season. Aside from a trip to Fürth, home games with Mainz 05 (8th), Fortuna Düsseldorf (12th) and 1. FC Nürnberg (13th) are to come, whilst they also travel to VfL Wolfsburg (15th) and Werder Bremen (14th). Their destiny is in their own hands.
A lack of consistency from key players this season has seen the team slump into this relegation battle. Brazilian Roberto Firmano has just 3 goals and 2 assists to his name this season, Sejad Salihovic 3 and joint-top scorers Kevin Volland and Joselu have just 4 apiece.
Hoffenheim have even used 3 goalkeepers this season. Currently in goal is January loan signing Heurelho Gomes who is yet to keep a clean sheet, although has conceded exactly 1 goal in four of his five games. The signing of centre-back David Abraham the same month appears to be an improvement too. But they still have the league’s most pourous defence, having conceded 49 goals this season.
One of the league’s wealthiest clubs, one of the league’s most unpopular clubs, 1899 Hoffenheim have 10 games to go to remain a 1. Bundesliga club next season.