• Friday, 10 February 2012

    The joys of Lego and TSG Hoffenheim

    Lego* is brilliant. The toy of choice for generations. Hours, days even, could be spent building elborate constructions, alone or with siblings. From simple moon bases to complex cities and civilisations were not beyond the ken provided you had imaginations, enough bricks and a mother who didn't insist on 'tidying all this mess up before your father gets home'.

    Over time, the original kits to build a specific items were merged with others into a generic pile of bricks. Where one kit started and ended wasn't important as the pile of bricks grew and grew, enabling you to break free from the shackles imposed by the creators and build something previously unimagined in scale and practicality. But no matter how complex and impressive your creations were, they did have to be dismantled, whether it was before your dad got home or otherwise, and often the destruction process was more enjoyable than the initial planning, design and build phases. And that's like Hoffenheim.

    The Sinsheim club are the Lego creation of SAP founder Dietmar Hopp. Having seen his approaches rebuffed by a number of clubs, instead he took the side he once played for, in the suburbs of Sinsheim, and took them rapidly upwards to the Bundesliga under the stewardship of Ralf Rangnick. He spent on infrastructure too, building a stadium into which the population of Hoffenheim could fit ten times over. But now he's in the process of taking the whole project apart.

    Whether he's bored or not, you'd have to ask him, but the rot set in when he sold Luiz Gustavo out from beneath Rangnick against the master-coach's expressed wishes. Rangnick left. Holger Stanislawski was persistently undermined in his short tenure and, frankly, he's best off out of it. Having spent 19 years with St Pauli as player and coach, the likeable Stanislawski has seen his shot at the big time blow up below him. He deserves another chance. His successor is Markus Babbel. Fine player though he was, he's not made a great fist of jobs at Stuttgart - where the requirement to attend courses in Koln to do his badges having been given dispensation by the DFB didn't help - and Hertha BSC who offed him during the winter break after a complete breakdown of relations. This smacks of self-sabotage by Hopp.

    What does Hopp want? If he is bored, then he needs to have a sustainable model that someone else can take on. That does not exist - the club is entirely reliant on regular injections of cash from Hopp to keep operating as it does currently. If he's winding it down, the club will end up back where he picked them up from - the regional leagues - but with a 30,000-seater reminder to ambition mixed with hubris.

    The house that Dietmar built is falling down. The question now is whether he has the will to build it back up again.

    * - other building blocks are available

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