Back to the future for Hertha Berlin as Dárdai returns

BERLIN (AP) — It’s back to the future for Hertha Berlin, a club tormented by its own ambition as it fails to deliver after huge investments and finds itself overshadowed by crosstown rival Union Berlin.

The club re-hired former coach Pál Dárdai on Monday to shake up the team after yet another lackluster start to the season. Dárdai replaces Bruno Labbadia, who was fired the day before.

“Pál has Hertha Berlin in his blood and we are absolutely convinced that his clear manner will give the team the necessary new impetus,” Hertha chief executive Carsten Schmidt said.

Hertha is 14th in the 18-team Bundesliga, two points above the relegation zone after winning only one of its last eight games, over last-place Schalke.

Dárdai’s return was made possible following the dismissal Sunday of general manager Michael Preetz, who opted not to keep him on as coach at the end of the 2018-19 season. Dárdai had been in charge since February 2015 and his team was solid but unspectacular. Hertha needs stability at this stage.

“As a die-hard Herthaner, he knows everyone here and doesn’t need any time to settle in,” Schmidt said of Dárdai, who was given a contract to the summer of 2022.

As a Hertha player, he made a club-record 286 Bundesliga appearances.

“I don’t need to tell anyone what Hertha means to me,” said Dárdai, who had been in charge of Hertha’s under-16s. “There was no question that I would help out in this situation.”

It is just under a year since investor Lars Windhorst said Hertha should be mixing with the best in Germany and qualifying for European competition.

“It’s not rocket science,” Windhorst said in February 2020.

But Hertha has only disappointed since Windhorst first invested in the club in June 2019. The financier has pledged 374 million euros ($450 million) to Hertha altogether. He is yet to see any sign that his money is well spent.

Underwhelming performances on the pitch have been accompanied by turmoil off it. There have been major boardroom changes and Hertha worked its way through four coaches last season – Ante Covic, Jürgen Klinsmann, Alexander Nouri and Labbadia.

Labbadia came in while the Bundesliga was suspended due to the coronavirus, and was fired after nine months in charge on Sunday. Hertha lost four of its last five games last season, and four of its first five this time around.

Hertha captain Niklas Stark, asked Saturday if the team was still behind the coach, would only say that it was not his decision to make.

The firing of Preetz, who hired 11 coaches altogether, ended his 25-year association with the club that began when he was a player in 1996.

Preetz is taking most of the blame for Hertha’s problems. Hertha fans called for his resignation in a socially distanced protest outside the Olympiastadion before Bremen’s visit on Saturday. They also protested against Hertha president Werner Gegenbauer, who remains at the club.

Preetz oversaw a spending spree of well over 100 million euros ($121 million) since Windhorst arrived. Only Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have spent more.

Preetz jettisoned experienced players like Vedad Ibisevic, Per Skjelbred, Salomon Kalou and Thomas Kraft in a shake up of the squad, but none of the new arrivals have been able to impress so far.

Hertha’s struggles have been amplified by Union’s success with much less means. Union was expected to struggle in its second season in the Bundesliga, but it is currently eighth after earning points against Bayern, Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg, among others.

Hertha has already adjusted its targets for the season.

“Whenever you think you’re better than the others, you’re already a point behind,” Schmidt said.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

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