On paper, it was exactly as Hannover 96 would have wanted it for their return to the Bundesliga.
There was a capacity crowd of 49,000 inside the HDI-Arena for their first home game back in the top flight and by the end of it, a second win from two games sent them into the international break in the fledgling table’s top four, shoulder to shoulder with Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and (equally improbably) Hamburg.
In reality, there were more mixed feelings than euphoria as André Breitenreiter’s team extended their perfect start against Schalke on Sunday. “The first home game felt a little bit like an away game,” wrote Hannoversche Allgemeine’s Carsten Bergmann. What is happening on the pitch is almost a sideshow, as vocal Hannover fans rail against the plan of the long-serving president, Martin Kind, to take majority control of the club.
The club’s supervisory board voted to sell Kind a 51% controlling stake in early August, allowing the 73-year-old to apply for an exemption to the Bundesliga’s 50+1 rule, which disallows any single person (or company) from having more than 49% of a professional club’s voting rights. A group of fans attempting to take out an injunction to block the move have already had their application rejected by a regional court, but there’s no sense that the battle is over.
The emotions running high in the Nordkurve were clear, with a sea of protest banners, most referring to the 50+1 rule itself and some addressing Kind directly, with the phrase “Kind muss weg” (Kind must go) smattered on banners and signs, sporadically, around the ground. Others included “Demokratie>Monarchie” and “Keine Stimmung Ohne Mitbestimmung” – no atmosphere without co-determination.
That last one, hinting at the idea of the club almost being held hostage by the fans, is a concept that has been on a lot of minds around the club recently. It was something that Breitenreiter, the coach who brought the club back into the elite after taking over in spring, addressed directly in his pre-match press conference.
“We need the team and the fans to be a unit,” he implored on Friday. “My boys deserve to be supported, but with 34 away games in a season … without the support of the fans it will not be enough.” The general manager, Horst Heldt, is in an even trickier situation than Breitenreiter or the players, explicitly tasked with defending Kind and the club’s approach while simultaneously trying to keep the fans onside.
“I think it’s just a pity,” Heldt said before the weekend meeting with his former club, “because the interaction between the fans and the team has been really outstanding since I’ve been here, and we’ve seen what a great atmosphere and support for the team can bring. This boycott has nothing to do with the team. The team can’t do anything about the problems, but they are the ones who don’t receive support and suffer from it.”
The passion of those supporters is more than clear – too much so on occasions, with Kind being given police protection and an August friendly against Burnley at Turf Moor being abandoned at half-time after a number of away fans tore off seats and started throwing them. Not all those off-the-pitch misdemeanours should necessarily be linked to the current situation – Hannover have received more than €200,000 in DfB-imposed fines since 2013 for a variety of incidents, including fireworks and violent disorder – but the tension is undeniable.
One wonders what the Brazilian striker Jonathas made of this in the week of his arrival. Signing from Rubin Kazan on Monday for €9m, the biggest purchase in the club’s history, he seized on a Thilo Kehrer mistake to sidefoot in the winner just five minutes into his debut as a second-half substitute. A seasoned goalscorer in Spain who started this season strongly with Rubin, Jonathas represents the sort of step up in quality to this honest, hard-working team that could make the difference to Hannover’s survival hopes. He is also exactly the sort of signing, of course, which Kind will argue shows why the 96ers need to join Bayer Leverkusen, Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg in stepping away from 50+1, to attract big-money investors. “Whoever puts money in wants to be able to decide what is happening with it,” he said recently.
“Professional football can become more modern and still stand for values and traditions,” says Heldt. He has a tricky task persuading the majority of fans of that point of view, and not even the team’s great start will do much to help him.
• Bayern Munich made it two wins out of two as well; again, not in particularly spectacular fashion, and it took them until 18 minutes from the end of the game at Werder Bremen to break through. Yet this was more like the level of control that we’re used to. Manuel Neuer, making his comeback after four months out with a broken foot, argued that it was impossible “to fully test yourself” in such a quiet game. It took him 21 minutes to get his first touch of the ball. Elsewhere, Thomas Müller wasn’t too pleased that Kingsley Coman was given the nod ahead of him from the bench to replace Arjen Robben. “I don’t know what exactly the coach wants to see [from me],” he said afterwards, though the fact that Coman set up Robert Lewandowski’s first goal just after coming on, before Müller entered the fray to tee up the Pole’s second, suggests that Carlo Ancelotti got it spot on.
• In the week they finally said goodbye to Ousmane Dembélé, Dortmund again looked a happy camp as they swatted aside Hertha Berlin, a victory more emphatic that the 2-0 scoreline suggested. In fact, there’s a hint of Klopp-era BVB about them under Peter Bosz, a feeling not discouraged by Mario Götze (who played well in his first Bundesliga home game in seven months) and Nuri Sahin, who set up the opener for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and got a terrific second himself, being important again. Christian Pulisic put in a man-of the-match display in Dembélé’s stead, and Dynamo Kyiv’s Andriy Yarmolenko arrived on Monday as a direct replacement for the departed Frenchman.
• It was Bundesliga game number 50 for Julian Nagelsmann away at Bayer Leverkusen, and he got his gift in the form of a fortunate point for Hoffenheim. They showed their mettle at least in coming back from a losing position twice in a 2-2 draw, though the Leverkusen coach, Heiko Herrlich, was angry about Mark Uth’s second equaliser, believing there was a foul on Benny Henrichs in the build-up (which VAR examined). Herrlich should have saved his ire for his team – Dominik Kohr and Kevin Volland both missing sitters that could have put Leverkusen out of sight. On the plus side, they seem to have found a new penalty taker, with Wendell scoring from the spot with his first go, after the team missed nine of their previous 16.
• There was no more heartwarming sight than Holger Badstuber’s winner for Stuttgart against Mainz on his home debut, which was his first since December 2009. His smile will live long in the memories, but it was significant that his diving header came from a Dennis Aogo corner, with the experienced pair set to be vital for their team. Mainz have now lost to both promoted clubs in successive weeks, though their sporting director, Rouven Schröder, was deeply unhappy with the use of VAR, which failed to give them an early penalty for a foul and Robin Quaison and later gave a very contentious spot-kick against René Adler – which Stuttgart’s Simon Terrode missed.
• There were more recurring patterns of behaviour in Augsburg, where Borussia Mönchengladbach played with style but profligacy, conceding a late equaliser to Sérgio Córdova to give the home side a point. The defending from Dieter Hecking’s side was questionable, though Augsburg had 24 efforts on goal and really deserved their first point of the season.
• RB Leipzig are off the mark too, though they had to overturn a half-time deficit before eventually overwhelming Freiburg 4-1. Timo Werner was back on the goal trail with a brace, and his new partnership with Jean-Kévin Augustin – who laid on two assists – looked very promising. The pièce de resistance, though, was substitute Bruma’s blockbusting volley, his first goal for the club.
• It was more hard luck stories for Eintracht Frankfurt, with Kevin-Prince Boateng’s home debut not enough to prevent a loss to Wolfsburg. Both he and the club’s new centre-forward Sébastien Haller – who hit the post – missed presentable chances, much to the Prince’s displeasure. “I prefer someone who throws shoes into the corner in the half-time,” said the CEO, Fredi Bobic. “We need such types.” More influential on the day was Josuha Guilavogui, incandescent to be left out last week but setting up Daniel Dadavi’s winner for the visitors.
• Last but by no means least, three cheers for Hamburg. They put a pin in the party balloons of Köln on Friday night, with the city busy salivating over their return to Europe after the Europa League draw earlier in the day. From André Hahn’s well-taken opener it was the consummate away performance, and they held on well even after a red card for Mërgim Mavraj on the hour – handed out by the replacement referee, Sören Storks, 44 seconds after he took over from the injured Felix Brych.
Friday: Köln 1-3 Hamburg. Saturday: Dortmund 2-0 Hertha, Augsburg 2-2 Gladbach, Eintracht Frankfurt 0-1 Wolfsburg, Leverkusen 2-2 Hoffenheim, Stuttgart 1-0 Mainz, Werder Bremen 0-2 Bayern. Sunday: Hannover 1-0 Schalke, Leipzig 4-1 Freiburg.
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