It felt as if the appointment of Felix Magath was peak Hertha. We should have known better. On the eve of the first game of the new era, at home to Champions League-chasing Hoffenheim, the new coach tested positive for Covid, and was confined to his Berlin hotel room. When it became known that Magath would be unable to take to the touchline for his projected debut with illness, it felt utterly typical of Hertha’s wretched season to date. “I thought he was joking,” said sporting director Fredi Bobic of the moment when he took Magath’s call to receive the news.
Those waiting for a must-watch Hertha – for better or for worse – might have felt deflated, but they need not have worried. Enter Mark Fotheringham, the 38-year-old Scot who played at Celtic, Norwich, briefly under Magath at Fulham and, more importantly, a German speaker with experience as assistant to former Magath foil Tomas Oral at Karlsruhe and Ingolstadt.
While the 68-year-old paced his room in quarantine, Fotheringham prowled the touchline, giving Hertha presence and personality. “You can tell that the team has been given a jolt,” said defender Niklas Stark. “Mark is an amazing guy, and the energy he has is amazing.” Before Christmas, Fotheringham was being linked with the Dunfermline job, after their German takeover last year. Now, he was leading a Bundesliga giant, and winning.
Yes, winning. Hertha’s first victory in 2022 was courtesy of a performance from a team that looked unlike anything else that had emerged from the Olympiastadion’s home dressing rooms in recent months, and lifted the team out of the bottom two. It was easy to look at the first line-up of the Magath/Fotheringham regime and think that three central defenders, with Stark just in front of the recalled Dedryck Boyata and Marc-Oliver Kempf and two further defensive midfielders in Lucas Tousart and Santi Ascacibar around him, represented safety first. Structure didn’t equal scared here, though. Hertha played with certainty and ambition.
They needed their rub of the green too, of course, having not had much of that in recent times, and when a clean-through Jacob Bruun Larsen spooned the ball over the top with only returning goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow to beat in the 25th minute, Hertha had the luck that they’d been missing.
They didn’t waste it. After Stark headed an opener from Marvin Plattenhardt’s free-kick late in the first-half they never looked back, scoring twice more from Plattenhardt set-piece deliveries to run out 3-0 winners – set-pieces that Magath credited Fotheringham with organising in a Sunday interview with Kicker from his hotel. “Mark Fotheringham did most of the work,” Magath said. “On the bench, in training, in discussions with the players.”
Not that Magath was totally absent. He spoke to his players by video link before the match, as well as at half-time, while goalkeeping coach Andreas Menger passed the coach’s messages to Fotheringham on the bench during the game. “I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say it,” said Marco Richter furtively, “but yes, the boss was there.” The drama will continue even if, as the club hopes, the results build to pull the team away from the bottom. Main investor Lars Windhorst’s public attack on president Werner Gegenbauer and his “cliques” underlined that Hertha will continue to be a soap opera. The start of Magath’s spell, though – and he is still tight-lipped on any possibility of extending his stay beyond the season’s end – suggests that there is life and even the potential for harmony on the pitch.
The weekend’s other big moment was a rather less edifying one, with Bochum’s Friday night home game with Borussia Mönchengladbach abandoned in the 69th minute – with Gladbach leading 2-0 – after assistant referee Christian Gittelmann was hit by a beer cup thrown from the stands. Gittelmann was treated for whiplash and bruising and while VfL apologised, the club were incandescent with the incident that has sullied their thus-far excellent season. Injured forward Simon Zoller wrote on Twitter that the action “was disrespectful to all those who work their arses off every day to experience this journey,” while CEO Hans-Peter Villis “A few people are destroying everything we’ve been building here for years,” said Villis, with the club having produced a video before the game to encourage spectators to stop throwing cups. Bochum have three days to submit their findings as they search for the thrower before the DFB announce the next stage of a disciplinary procedure, with a large fine and the possibility of a game behind closed doors (which would be estimated to cost the club another €1 million) both floated.
It was a strange week for Robert Lewandowski, who caused midweek panic by pulling up in training and leaving the pitch at Säbener Straße looking crestfallen. It proved to be just a scare, though, as he started and scored twice in the 4-0 demolition of Union, taking him over the 30-goal mark in the Bundesliga, and equalling another Gerd Müller record of 30 or more Bundesliga goals in five different seasons. Manuel Neuer kept a clean sheet on his record 311th Bundesliga victory and it was an achievement given Bayern’s decimated defence, which saw the teenage Tanguy Nianzou head in his first goal for the club.
So having looked under pressure for the first time in weeks after Axel Witsel’s late midweek winner for Borussia Dortmund at Mainz cut the gap at the top to four points, patched-up Bayern ended up extending their lead as BVB were held at Köln, stretching the champions’ lead back to six. We’d seen this one before, with Marius Wolf’s marvellously-taken goal from a raking Jude Bellingham pass the signal for a torpid first-half performance, bookended by a deserved Sebastian Andersson leveller for the hosts. Erling Haaland, starting his first game in 57 days, could have had a winner but referee Daniel Siebert blew for a Salih Özcan foul on Emre Can rather than playing an advantage when the Norwegian was clean through.
After their tough week of losing Florian Wirtz and Jeremie Frimpong to season-ending injuries plus Europa League elimination at the hands of Atalanta, Leverkusen needed a good news story and Paulinho provided it. The Brazilian, on the way back after a couple of injury-blighted years (and still only 21, remember), came on as a late substitute and scored two fine goals, his first in two years, to author victory at Wolfsburg.
On the week in which CEO Thomas Hitzlsperger finally announced his departure from Stuttgart after six years of service and some fractious exchanges in the boardroom, the team continued their unexpected upturn on the pitch. VfB twice came from behind to beat – and leapfrog – relegation rivals Augsburg in a five-goal thriller, with Omar Marmoush winning an argument with Chris Führich over who should take a free-kick to bend in the second equaliser before on-loan Portuguese teenager Tiago Tomás hit a winner. “It was very emotional,” said coach Pellegrino Materazzo, who understandably turned a blind eye to the dispute between Marmoush and Führich.