Photo by Steindy (Wikimedia Commons)
It's not quite Machiavellian, or his slightly more contemporary equivalent J.R. Ewing-ian, but the accusations flying around Hertha BSC that someone isn't telling the truth are deeply troubling for the fans, who fear that they are slipping back to renewed unrest at a club famous for it, and that they are in danger of becoming a "fahrstuhlmannschaft" – literally, a car seat team (it goes up and down, up and down).
To re-cap: on Sunday, Hertha's coach Markus Babbel was fired. It had to happen in the end. Things had apparently gone too far – the rumour mill had spun out of all control and because of that his leadership was doomed.
After the previous day's remarkable point away against Hoffenheim was earned by Roman Hubnik's last-gasp equaliser (and it was remarkable that only his fourth goal for the club should come at such a crucial moment) Babbel announced to the press that he wasn’t renewing his contract with Hertha at the end of the season. He also said that he had informed them as far back as November that he wouldn't be doing so and that they had all kept it quiet for the good of the team.
Manager Michael Preetz immediately countered, saying that they had only been told on Tuesday. They were pissed off, that much was obvious, because it usually takes something massive to get President Werner Gegenbauer to speak, let alone to say much of interest.
But speak he did, suggesting that the last thing the club needed right now was to have to deal with Babbel's "Baron Munchausen stories". "That he has described the sporting leadership as liars…” Gegenbauer continued.
It's a mess. Babbel has said that maybe Preetz didn't correctly understand what he told him in November, or that it was an unofficial chat, and the official one was on last Tuesday. But as he points out, somewhat fairly, Babbel has “no need to talk shit”. He doesn't. It has been clear for some time that he wouldn't renew (or at least the press made some pretty good guesses). Why the need for the deception?
Hertha under Babbel had done everything that was asked of them. An immediate promotion back to the 1. Bundesliga last season (in some style too, winning the league easily), a current spot just below mid-table, which, although recent results have been disappointing (especially at home), leaves them going into the Christmas break just three points from seventh place, and finally a semblance of a cup run. This has been the bugbear of Hertha's recent years, and the fans were desperate to get a sniff of the later stages. They are still there, tonight they face Kaiserslautern, with a decent chance of being in the draw for the quarter finals.
On Thursday it seems that Michael Skibbe will be announced as the new boss. The former assistant to Rudi Völler for the German National side ticks the right boxes in terms of playing style and is well known for his work with young players, but there are question marks about how long he'll stay around. He has to be bought out of his contract with Eskişehirspor in Turkey, and will arrive with the fans desperate for a manager who will stay the course with them this time. Hopes were so high with Babbel just a year ago; it would be heart-breaking to go through this again.
And now, as Babbel is forgotten, the pressure will be well and truly on the club's former record goal scorer, Michael Preetz. Sections of the fans are already unhappy at how the club is being perceived as a laughing stock across the country, and some hold him responsible. Whatever the truth of when and how Babbel finally told the club he was going to be off in the summer, the former Bayern legend will be fine. It is Hertha who have to pick up the pieces of this mess and start again.
It is Hertha's fans who have to go into work and look at their football fan colleagues. A win in the cup tonight will make things look a whole lot nicer going into Christmas with a new gaffer. Maybe, whatever the truth is (and the press seem to be siding with the club in this) this will allow the dust on an unhappy end of the vorrunde to finally settle.