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Fate of Hamburg’s Labbadia hinges on Europa League
Hamburg SV coach Bruno Labbadia’s job has been hanging in the balance for weeks. But any development on that front was put on ice when Hamburg advanced to the Europa League semi-finals against Belgium’s Standard Liege on Thursday.
There is no denying, however, that Labbadia has underperformed at Hamburg, desperate for some silverware after a title drought that stretches back decades. After a very good start to the season, they imploded after the winter break, admittedly, in part, due to major injuries to key players including strikers Mladen Petric and Paolo Guerrero.
With only three wins in 12 matches, Hamburg are playing with fire and could miss out on a lucrative European spot for next season. They are currently in sixth place on 45 points, three off a Europa League spot, despite signing Ruud van Nistelrooy.
This sounds so familiar to both Labbadia as well as Hamburg.
Labbadia was in charge at Bayer Leverkusen last season and a stunning run put them in fifth place, three off the top, at the halfway mark. But hugely talented Leverkusen, who had played some exciting football, tumbled down to ninth at the end of the season and Labbadia was axed.
Hamburg’s 2008/09 season was eerily similar under Dutch coach Martin Jol, with the club in the running for three titles just weeks before the end of the season. All of them slipped through their fingers in a span of about 19 days, with losses to fierce rivals Werder Bremen in the UEFA Cup and the German Cup and again to Werder in a crucial Bundesliga game that killed off their title hopes.
A year on and Hamburg may be struggling to keep up with the league leaders but Labbadia is hanging on to his job as the northern club edges closer to the Europa League final that will take place, you guessed it, in Hamburg on May 12.
Even if Hamburg stumble in the Bundesliga, 44-year-old Labbadia could still survive if he wins their first European title since 1983 when they beat Juventus Turin on a warm spring evening in Athens in 1983 to claim the European Cup. Apart from the insignificant Intertoto Cup and the now defunct German League Cup, Hamburg have not won a major title since their 1987 German Cup victory.
Labbadia could change all that or end up paying with his job for yet another near miss.