Hertha Berlin’s long-mooted revamp is favouring humility over stardust

The fans on the Ostkurve of Berlin’s Olympiastadion celebrated with abandon on Friday night, looking “more euphoric than they had for a long time”, as Jörn Lange of Berliner Morgenpost put it. Hertha had just avoided embarrassment, coming back from a goal down to win and – almost as importantly – avoiding becoming Greuther Fürth’s first victims of the season.

For those looking at the bare numbers on paper, it might have been harder to raise a substantial cheer, following on from a flattering but necessary win at Bochum last week. Two victories over promoted teams are not the stuff major investor Lars Windhorst’s dreams are made of, but they are a start – and a good one, bearing in mind the mettle Hertha have had to show in both matches.

Pal Dardai, whose presence looked anything but certain when he spoke immediately after the 5-0 spanking at Bayern Munich before the international break and dangled his potential resignation in front of the gathered media, even managed to relativise Friday’s harum-scarum moments, notably when Branimir Hrgota gave the visitors a second-half lead from the penalty spot.

“I said to my coaching team that it would be better if we conceded a goal because we were just playing in a block,” Dardai reflected. “Thank God it went afterwards. How we used the ball [na] and how we showed the aggression we needed … I got goosebumps and it brought the crowd along with us.” The home fans rose in a cavernous stadium that finds it hard to generate (and maintain) heat in all but the most exceptional of situations. That’s why this routine-on-paper win felt like something much more.

Dardai showed his own commitment on the touchline, blowing his top in the closing minutes and needing to be calmed by sporting director Arne Friedrich after already being yellow-carded by referee Tobias Stieler. The rage (“I apologised to the officials afterwards,” Dardai told DAZN) subsided and had settled into warm satisfaction by the time the coach spoke to the cameras, miles away from the “emotional outburst” at Bayern, as managing director for sport Fredi Bobic had framed it.

Then again, Dardai had seen something not even remotely akin to that sorry surrender in Bavaria, “a victory of will and character”. Small steps to the outside world feel like giant strides internally. “A team that helps each other is being created here,” the coach continued. “Last season we weren’t a team, just a lot of individuals.”

That culture is important to Dardai, a loyal club man, and especially to Bobic, who has already shown he is not afraid to use his new broom as he seeks to streamline Hertha and push them in their long-mooted right direction. If Dardai was taking a thinly-veiled swipe at the departed Matheus Cunha (who he publicly rebuked for his attitude before he left for Atlético Madrid), Jhon Córdoba and Dodi Lukebakio (abruptly packed off on loan to Wolfsburg on deadline day), then Bobic’s decisive moves had already trumpeted loud and clear over the capital’s rooftops that things needed changing in a big way.

Dardai’s loyalty has been clear over 297 Bundesliga games for Hertha as a player, then two spells coaching the youth team and now a second in charge of the senior side, and Bobic’s implication in moulding a new Hertha can’t be doubted either. This serial monogamist of a sporting director announced he was leaving Eintracht Frankfurt in March before his appointment at Hertha, in a role above Friedrich, was confirmed in mid-April. Bobic quickly made clear if the unthinkable happened and Hertha dropped to the second tier, he was still all in.

He may have been a big-name appointment at board level but he didn’t arrive with the vision of assembling an all-star cast – quite the opposite. “We let players go that you might say didn’t wear the shirt in the way they should,” he said pointedly last month. Intussen, Windhorst has made clear he is prepared to invest even more in Hertha, having already sunk the thick end of €400m into the club. “I will never give up,” he told Süddeutsche Zeitung in a recent interview, “whatever it takes.” He also made clear that his big ambitions for Hertha – primarily, reaching the Champions League – remain undimmed. “It certainly shouldn’t take five to 10 jare, but rather two to five,” he insisted.

Yet Bobic’s plan appears to be for tidy housekeeping, stability and incremental gain to move on up, and clamping down on what he sees as a culture of waste. The profits from selling Cunha, originally feted as the club’s talisman, and Córdoba in particular have more than covered the fees spent on the summer’s incoming players. If the signings of Stevan Jovetić and the returning Kevin-Prince Boateng have captured headlines – and their experience could and should be important – Bobic hopes some of his other signings could seize supporters’ hearts.

Jurgen Ekkelenkamp, freshly arrived from Ajax where he promised without making himself indispensable, made as big an impact against Fürth as anyone could have hoped. The Dutchman, a second-half substitute, netted a stylish equaliser just 87 seconds after coming on and then provoked visiting defender Maximilian Bauer into turning the eventual winner into his own net. “Jurgen has street football elements to him,” enthused Dardai. “I don’t really know how he ended up with us with such skills. You can’t learn those.”

The immediate suggestion, looking into Hertha’s future, was that sexy football doesn’t need to be the result of profligate spending. Dardai, Bobic and Windhorst will hope that proves to be true.

“I knew straight away I was going to shoot.” Leroy Sané’s return to his confident self continued with a stunning free-kick to open the floodgates against Bochum – which was always planned, as he told Sky – with Julian Nagelsmann saying the winger had also “made some incredible steps” in taking part in Bayern’s pressing. The swarm was irresistible for the visitors, who eventually succumbed to a 7-0 defeat. “It hurts,” said Bochum’s Thomas Reis, “but we have to work on the naivety.”

The avalanche of goals took Bayern top as Wolfsburg lost their 100% record, conceding a 1-1 draw at home to Eintracht Frankfurt in which they missed enough chances to win two games, embodied by a very frustrated Wout Weghorst, who nevertheless rescued a point with a close-range equaliser.

Erling Haaland did it again, scoring a mind-bendingly good lob to lift Borussia Dortmund to safety after their 3-0 lead against Union had been diminished by more careless defending. “We have a lot of games this season and we need to conserve the energy,” said an exasperated Marco Rose.

Florian Wirtz also dazzled once more – the 18-year-old scored and assisted as his Leverkusen side won 3-1 at Stuttgart despite playing an hour with 10 men. Leipzig, intussen, missed out on a win at Köln with Timo Horn denying Dominik Szoboszlai a late winner in a game which had four goals ruled out by VAR.

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