Photo by Olaf Tausch (Wikimedia CC)
After February's loss at home in the derby, Hertha BSC boss Markus Babbel implied that the pressure was getting too great on his players. That the huge crowds they were attracting were making things more difficult. It is the inverse to Arsene Wenger's maxim that "everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home." Hertha, Babbel's old lady (the club nick-name), was looking like a stinker; bawling out her man when he needed her the most, and criticising him when he needed a firm shoulder.
Well, she has come good. On Sunday 70,000 people turned out to the Olympiastadion to watch a mostly routine stroll past ineffective- though trying- opposition. The sunshine had brought them in droves, making it the third highest attended game of football in Europe this weekend. That is some record, and one of which the club can be immensely proud.
Sure, football fans are idiots, and there will always remain a minority for whom it is not good enough just too make it to the stadium for the good times, but the sheer numbers through the turnstiles to watch Babbel's team today show a level of support that is potentially unrivaled. Babbel knows about these things. One doesn't have success with Bayern and Liverpool without dealing with high pressure, partisan crowds wanting to win in style.
So as the massed hoards enjoyed three points in the sunshine, Babbel was back to bigger matters. Hertha went back to the top of the league above Augsburg, and he has got a dangerous meeting with VFL Bochum next week, who are undergoing a bright renewal of form under the craggy faced former king of Charlottenburg – Friedhelm Funkel. But with this squad, they should – and I say should, because sport is a cruel mistress, as the Old lady will tell you – have no problems going up. Peter Niemeyer is an unfussy constant presence, doing the mopping up, and culturedly spreading the ball around like a croupier on a mission. Next to him Raffael went about his business carefully – resisting the urges that wrack his body to effervescently jink forward.
Adrian Ramos has no equal in the league. He reminds of Nwankwo Kanu, with his ungainly, leggy running. But his ball control can be magical. It looks as though he's blown it, but then those limbs come from nowhere and perform miracles. Before you can say Bambi on ice, the ball is whisked away in a fresh direction.
Either way, it doesn't really matter. While the building itself may be riddled with asbestos, the heralded Hertha academy is definitely working wonders. Pierre Michel Lasogga's goal was a perfect symbol of everything that the young Berliner has achieved this year. His burst between the centre halves was classical in its thinking, clinical in its execution. He knows where to be in front of the goal, and triter things have been said about worse strikers in the past. He was unlucky not to have had at least one more as Daniel Masuch somehow stretched a leg out to stop another classy run and flick past the keeper.
His friend on the right, on the left – where ever the ball ended up needing to be chased was Patty Ebert: the returning king. Though still claiming not to be 100 percent fit (remember too, footballers have no idea about maths, 110 percent is still attainable) he is a whirling dervish. Biting aggression, and deft of foot, he is as beloved by the fans for what he represents, but his re-appearance has reinvigorated Hertha.
Even on days such as Sunday, when not everything clicked as it sometimes has this season, they found a way through to goal. As has happened so often it was Lasogga's finishing, and their ruthlessness with the dead ball. Ebert's corner rammed home by the head of captain Andre Mijatovic.
There are still creases to be ironed out, a maddening and alarming tendency to switch off at the back will cost them against better opposition than Paderborn. The mostly ineffective Jorge Mosquera was sent through as Raffael ducked under a ball he thought was covered by his defence, and the excellent Soren Brandy was unlucky to be called offside as he ghosted through them slumbering. Later Mijatovic, Roman Hubnik and Maikel Aerts all stared at each other as they expected someone to pick up a stray ball. Nikita Rukavytsya is lightning quick on the left-hand side, but he is flighty and needs to learn to make better decisions with the ball at times.
But these are small complaints. With attendances like this, who is to say that a year in the lower rungs wouldn't have helped any? The old lady is grinning at the moment, and she's happily waiting for a dinner again at the top table.