After a reshuffle, it can be tough to find your bearings. As Alexander Nouri, now the interim head coach of Hertha BSC, felt his way into his new role, with the club’s sporting director Michael Preetz a few seats further down the bench, he didn’t want to tear his eyes from the action in Saturday’s game at Paderborn. Unfortunately, that also meant that when he went to take a seat, which unbeknown to him had flipped up, Nouri sat on fresh air and was left to style out his stumble as best he could.
It was the only time during his debut on the touchline that Nouri really left anything to chance – and that’s just the way Hertha wanted it after a week which Preetz described with some understatement as “turbulent”. The exit of Jürgen Klinsmann after 76 days at the helm was in keeping with the rest of his time in charge in Berlin. It was haphazard, rushed and not particularly in keeping with the way the club habitually do business.
Hertha have been trying to change, though, with the substantial investment and increasing involvement of Lars Windhorst, which allowed them to be the biggest spenders in Europe’s top leagues in the winter transfer window. That’s why so many fans of other clubs have been obliging themselves to (mockingly) call Hertha the “Big City Club”, as Windhorst has tried to help steer them from one of the Bundesliga’s least noteworthy teams to a renewed entity, full of the vibrancy and verve of the capital.
If ever there was a symbol for that sort of perceived hubris, it was Klinsmann. Originally brought in to sit on Hertha’s advisory board, he took over as head coach in late November when the reign of Ante Covic ran aground. Klinsmann, the decorated former player, national team coach and guru played to type. It was a whirlwind. He filmed the fans, and himself, from the dugout as he arrived for his debut against Borussia Dortmund at the Olympiastadion, surrounded by a pack of photographers, which you don’t see at a Hertha game each week.
As the club were linked with big (and largely unsuitable) names like Granit Xhaka, Kevin Strootman and Mario Götze, he tried to change the culture almost overnight. The tipping point came when it became clear that he wouldn’t get the overarching manager/head of transfers/general figurehead job he wanted, and he quit. He had almost asked Preetz, in effect, to have a position that eclipsed his. The way he suddenly stepped down angered Windhorst to the point that the investor, who loved the idea of the added glamour and potential added sponsorship deals that Klinsmann could bring, quickly made clear he wouldn’t be required back on the board. “The way he quit is so unacceptable that constructive work between him and everyone else can’t go on,” Windhorst said. “He lost a lot of his credibility here.”
The coaching itself wasn’t for Klinsmann, and it never was. Nouri was brought in to do the tactics, much as Jogi Löw had done when he led Germany through that sensational 2006 World Cup on home soil. So for the players, Saturday was the substance minus the drama. “Our spirit was good today,” said skipper Niklas Stark. “There was a good atmosphere on the pitch and on the bench, and it helped us.” Was that a switch from Klinsmann’s reign? “At any rate, I noticed it today,” Stark replied.
Against the bottom team Nouri ostensibly went in with a back three, but with Peter Pekarik recalled on the right and Santi Ascascibar sat in front of the defence, it could have easily passed for a back six. In many ways it recalled the dying days of his tenure at Werder Bremen, when Nouri had worked obsessively to improve the famously leaky defence – sadly, at the cost of any previous attacking inspiration. It was a long way from the bright lights of Klinsmann’s debut.
It worked, though. Some will have looked at Hertha’s team sheet and started muttering about negative Nouri. In reality, the coach was pragmatic enough to know that if he could contain Paderborn’s pace up front, Hertha were always going to get the chances to win. Nouri also put them in a position to take those opportunities, with big signing Krzysztof Piatek joined up front by fellow arrival Matheus Cunha. After Piatek missed a sitter, Cunha almost scored the winner with a tidy backheel – almost, because it ended up credited as an own goal to Jamilu Collins, whose laudable efforts to clear the Brazilian’s attempt off the line were in vain.
That effort, evident in the closing stages with Jordan Torunarigha’s last-ditch challenge on Sebastian Vasiliadis to help secure the points, made you think that maybe Nouri has a chance of holding on to the post – though Preetz has hardly run away from speculation linking the club with Berlin boy Niko Kovac.
Nouri certainly got the support of his old boss. Klinsmann sent a congratulatory WhatsApp to his erstwhile assistant from his home in California, where many would argue he shouldn’t have left in the first place. Adding glamour to Hertha will be an incremental process. It was never, sadly, going to happen at Klinsmann’s pace.
• Bayern Munich made it a miserable start to Karneval for Köln, scoring three times in the opening 12 minutes on their win to a 4-1 win, with Thomas Müller again outstanding. “I haven’t seen the first half,” he said of possibly their most fluent performance this term, “but it felt really great on the pitch.”
• As he leaned ashen over the advertising hoarding in front of the dugout, it seemed as if Florian Kohfeldt had run out of time. It would be harsh to fire the coach after losing to one of the best teams, but the goals Werder conceded – they’ve now let in 17 from set-pieces this season – had sporting director Frank Baumann tearing his hair out. But it was perfect preparation for Leipzig, four days before their Champions League visit to Tottenham, as they coasted to a 3-0 win without working Timo Werner too hard.
• Dortmund’s tie with PSG looks ever more mouthwatering after the 4-0 (that’s right, nil) win over Eintracht Frankfurt. “We were much more focused,” said Mats Hummels after BVB recovered from back-to-back defeats. “If we can take that on, we have a very good chance against Paris.”
• When was the last time a striker played as well as Marcus Thuram without scoring? Borussia Mönchengladbach’s flying Frenchman was sensational as they brushed aside Fortuna Düsseldorf 4-1, setting up the first two goals for Jonas Hofmann and Lars Stindl as they stayed in the top four and, for now, in the title race.
• Wout Weghorst hadn’t scored for two-and-a-half months but hit a hat-trick to see Wolfsburg to a valuable win. Even club legends Edin Dzeko and Grafite only managed two apiece in the glory years.