Why the Bundesliga Needs Hertha Berlin in the Champions League

We’re now into the business end of the football season with only a couple of months left. Titles need to be decided and teams need to be relegated, and of course, narratives all across the continent need a resolution, most notably Leicester’s pursuit of a shock Premier League title.

There is also the issue of Champions League places that are still up for grabs, and in Germany a shock is brewing up in the capital city as Hertha Berlin are only a handful of games from automatic Champions League qualification.

Hertha competing in the Champions League would be huge for the Bundesliga because Germany is a footballing anomaly in that its capital city, despite hosting both the World Cup and Champions League finals within the last decade, cannot boast to be a Bundesliga powerhouse, much less a European football powerhouse.

Berlin is home to both Union Berlin and Hertha Berlin, with the former stagnating in the Bundesliga 2 and the latter being somewhat of a yo-yo club. Despite being home to the Olympiastadion, the city has never really been a sporting power in the same that, for example, Munich can claim to be, and that may have something to do with the big wall that divided Berlin for over 30 years.

The Wall was constructed in 1961 and was officially demolished in 1992 and during that period West Germany enjoyed great footballing success on the international front, winning 3 World Cups under the official West German tag (demolition began in June 1990 as the tournament was already underway) but domestically West German football was going strong.

Berlin Wall freedom
Source: www.internationalinside.com

Bayern were a mainstay, naturally, but other Western teams such as Stuttgart, Dortmund and Mönchengladbach all enjoyed golden periods whilst the country was divided. The West was also able to produce talents such as Lothar Mätthaus, Jürgen Klinsmann and Rudi Völler.

The football was at times deemed boring, but football-wise the West rose up from the ashes of the War relatively unscathed. In the East, however, they could not say the same, as evidenced by the East side being more famous for the Stasi and daring tales of escape rather than sport, even if East Germany did beat their Western brothers once.

With the Wall splitting the city in two, there were 2 different top-tier leagues in Germany, the Western Bundesliga which formed in 1963 and the Eastern Oberliga, and as Hertha were the big team in Berlin, they became an inaugural member of the new Bundesliga in the West.

Hertha were then relegated the following season for bribing players to play and live in Berlin, which goes to show how dire things became there, even on the Western side of the city. The Bundesliga was desperate to keep a hold of Hertha, not for the standard of the league, but for political purposes only.

When so much is made of a club’s history you kind of have to feel for Hertha (and any other Berlin club, really). Hertha never really stood a chance in regards to becoming a Bundesliga force and that was, at the time, completely out of their control.

A lot of what attracts a player to a club is the lifestyle, so a bombed out politically tense city that has a wall running through it is hardly going to attract the big name stars.

Moneywise, it’s nearly impossible for a German club to get a cash injection on the scale that Anzhi had thanks to the Bundesliga 50+1 rule which, according to Wikipedia:

“requires the parent club to own at least 50% plus one additional share of the football company, ensuring that the club’s members still hold a majority of voting rights”

This rule does allow wiggle room for outside investment as clubs can now be run for profit, but it means that club members still hold the majority vote, apart from the notable exceptions of Leverkusen (Bayer pharmaceuticals), Wolfsburg (Volkswagen) and, to an extent, Hoffenheim who were financially backed by software mogul and fan, Dietmar Hopp.

Wolfsburg current squad
Source: kornfootballfonts..wordpress.com

The 50+1 rule was brought into effect in 1998, before this outside investment was strictly prohibited. Either way, Hertha have never been flush with cash and quite possibly never will be. In 1994 after the wall came down Hertha found themselves in heavy debt, as well as playing in the second division

When you take into account the turbulent political history of Berlin and the lack of financial muscle, Hertha were effectively playing with a handicap and these factors will inevitably have played a part in them struggling to gain ground and become a Bundesliga power.

Since 1999, the club has been in European competition, but has also flirted with and even been relegated a couple of times, which you can only really attribute to what happened on the field rather than off it. They have been back in the top flight since 2012 and currently sit third in the league ahead of the more likely suspects Schalke, Gladbach, Leverkusen and Wolfsburg.

They have achieved this position so far with an effective counter attacking style and great team spirit. Naturally it helps that the bigger clubs are faltering, but that same boost has been given to Leicester this season, Atletico Madrid a couple of seasons ago and was given to Montpellier when they won Ligue 1 in 2012.

It would be remarkable for this Hertha team, which on paper is not filled with world beaters or particularly fancied as even a Europa League side, to finish ahead of the usual suspects and more “established” Champions League clubs.

Hertha fans
Source: www.herthabsc.de

When you consider how well German clubs have fared in Europe this season, Hertha can’t really do much worse. Out of the four teams in the Champions League, only Bayern and Wolfsburg got out of their groups whereas Leverkusen had to settle for the Europa League and Gladbach crashed out all together.

In the Europa League, only Dortmund still stand after Leverkusen, Schalke and Augsburg lost to Villarreal, Shakhtar and Liverpool respectively.

The Bundesliga is often accused of being a one team league, so for the Bundesliga to have another club challenging the status-quo can only be a good thing for the competition, and to look at it cynically, a consistent challenger for Europe in the capital city can only help the Bundesliga brand as it is currently the only league out of the top 5 whose capital city has not been represented in Europe or even has a competitive derby match.

Whether Hertha can build on this and become a stable challenger or whether they will succumb to the pressures that Augsburg and Gladbach have faced this season remains to be seen, but for now, this is one of the more under-appreciated feel good football stories around Europe.

Plus, wouldn’t it be a nice change to have a Hertha vs Leicester final?

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.