Sinking Hamburg wield the axe again but problems come from up on high

Based in a big, wealthy city, supported by millions and dripping in history, the northerners should be a force but meddling at the top is dragging them down

His team courageously, stubbornly, managed to hold off the visiting champions until a Joshua Kimmich strike in the 88th minute but for Bruno Labbadia, the game was up long before. The Hamburger SV coach knew full well that he had been cynically cast in the role of the patsy on Saturday afternoon, heaved on to the bench by the club manager Dietmar Beiersdorfer in order to fall down a final time and thus smooth the passage for the appointment of his successor, Markus Gisdol.

Labbadia, a man high on genuine passion and a bit of a cult hero with the supporters after he dramatically saved HSV from the drop in June 2015, threatened to get his last job wrong, by getting the right result, but Carlo Ancelotti’s team spared Beiersdorfer’s blushes with one of these typically late, lucky Bayern goals that we’ll see more of this season, as Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering, frighteningly reliable possession-machine is being replaced by a more haphazard, artisanal production process that relies on the individual quality of the workforce.

Labbadia, who was once an honest poacher wearing Munich’s colours in the droll, bad old days of the early 90s, a million years ago, spoke of his “deep sadness” straight after the final whistle on Saturday, in anticipation of the inevitable axe. Beiersdorfer called him the next morning to ask for a meeting, Labbadia preferred to hear the bad news immediately. It therefore wasn’t the club’s fault that the former Kaiserslautern striker had his second stint at the club in six years ended on the telephone, but the bungled dismissal still made for a fitting finale. Hamburg are once again the “Skandalnudel der Liga” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), a flawed, capricious celebrity living off her glorious past and the continued ability to produce headlines, even if they are made of rather embarrassing stuff.

The northerners’ endless comedy travails – Labbadia was the eighth coach to get fired since his first dismissal in 2010 – has kept neutrals entertained and neighbours Werder Bremen in good spirits but for German football, it’s been nothing short of a tragedy. Based in a big, wealthy city, supported by millions and dripping in history, the club of Ernst Happel, Horst Hrubesch, Kevin Keegan and Felix Magath were perfectly placed to take advantage of football’s new riches – and squandered it all.

A local billionaire, Klaus-Michael Kühne, has been pulling the strings behind the scenes, pumping millions into the loss-making enterprise, on the dubious advice of motor-mouth Reiner Callmund and other such specialists. Beiersdorfers’ mission statement from two years ago reads like pure science-fiction. “The sporting aim is to establish the club among the top five in the Bundesliga and play in international competitions consistently,” the 52-year-old Franconian had said upon his return to the HSV board in 2014 after five years in Salzburg and St Petersburg. “His resume from two years in charge reads €90m worth of transfer spending, four managerial changes, two dismissals of sporting directors and 0.0 success,” wrote Kai Schiller in Hamburger Abendblatt. “Now it’s down to Markus Gisdol to secure his future. If there’s no change of fortune, Beiersdorfer’s second term in office will end not long after Labbadia’s.”

Gisdol, the former Hoffenheim coach, is expected to bring some high-pressing and collective graft to a talented team chronically low on cohesion. There had been “no discernible progress” under Labbadia, despite a 10th-placed finish in 2015-16, Beiersdorfer claimed, not unreasonably. Faith in the incumbent had started to wane towards to the end of the last campaign, Beiersdorfer admitted but they couldn’t fire him then, only now, after one point from five and the advent of yet another crisis. “I believe 100% in the team,” the HSV director added, leaving no doubt about who was to blame. It’s always the managers’s fault at the Volksparkstadion.

Whether Gisdol, who had also been in talks with Werder Bremen last week, can buck the trend is questionable. The 47-year-old is a highly-rated tactician but has no experience at a big Bundesliga club, with all the madness that goes with it. The Swabian will have to become his own man very fast, to withstand the meddling from up high and get a grip on the volatile situation. Good luck.

Talking points

• In Gelsenkirchen, the Hamburg of the west, new coach Markus Weinzierl and sporting director Christian Heidel were supposed to replace serial dysfunctional embarrassment with seriously successful work. The duo’s early impact has indeed been transformative, albeit not in the way it was intended. The 2-1 disaster at Hoffenheim on Sunday, a fifth defeat in as many games for “Schalke 05” (muahaha), has resulted in the Champions League contenders proclaiming the beginning of the “relegation battle”, in the words of Heidel. Incredibly, the club has remained relatively quiet and patient so far, but for much longer? The task of making Schalke less like Schalke is truly a Herculean one, and not made easier by a horrific run of results.

• Werder’s story, by contrast, was one of triumph for once. A late 2-1 comeback with two goals in four minutes (Lennart Thy 86; Theodor Gebre Selassie 90) at home to Wolfsburg – another big team struggling badly – had interim manager Alexander Nouri dancing manically under the Weserstadion floodlights. “He’s pushed us and motivated us well,” captain Clemens Fritz said after the first win of the season. The club’s bosses, however, are not entirely sure whether Nouri has what it takes to be a new André Schubert. Their search for a more battle-hardened manager continues.

• Bayern’s win was ever so slightly spoilt by yet another Ribéry incident – the Frenchman pinched Nicolai Müller’s (facial) cheek – but kept them top with a 100% record. Dortmund, however, proved that they’re currently the best team in Germany, at least in pure footballing terms: some of the moves they pulled off in the 3-1 win over Freiburg were simply dreamlike. Real Madrid, beware.

• “It was the perfect hat-trick – one with the left, one with the right, one with the head,” said a relieved Javier Hernández in Mainz. The Mexican striker saved Bayer Leverkusen from an untimely recurrence of doubts about the hard-to-shift phlegm in the dressing room. Roger Schmidt’s team have had a mediocre start to the season (seven points from five leaves them in 10th place) and are one of the early under-achievers relative to their considerable talent. Tuesday’s visit by Monaco in the Champions League offers a chance to pick up a bit of momentum.

Results: Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Freiburg, Augsburg 1-0 Darmstadt, Gladbach 2-0 Ingolstadt, Hamburger SV 0-1 Bayern, Bremen 2-1 Wolfsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt 3-3 Hertha BSC, Mainz 2-3 Leverkusen, Köln 1-1 RB Leipzig, Hoffenheim 2-1 Schalke.