Mission complete! On 25th January, Pál Dárdai and Admir Hamzagić returned to the Hertha BSC helm for the second time. The goal was clear: together with newcomer Andreas 'Zecke' Neuendorf, the pair wanted to lead the blue-and-whites to safety having taken over with just a two point cushion over the relegation places. They were able to achieve that aim with one game to spare – and that despite a difficult opening schedule, two weeks spent at home in quarantine and five games in 13 days after that. One key part of the equation for success has been the team spirit. “Right from day one, Pál made it clear to everyone what it's about, that the most important thing is that we are a family, that we grow together and get through the difficult phase together,” said assistant coach Hamzagić. “Everyone was aware from the beginning that we could only achieve our goals together!” herthabsc.com chatted to the 35-year-old ahead of the season finale to discuss the intense, eventful weeks gone by.
herthabsc.com: Admir, we’ve done it! Congratulations on survival! The joy must have been massive – how did you celebrate this week?
Hamzagić: Thanks a lot! We all celebrated together for a little while in the dressing room. It lasted a long, long time and was a lot of fun to see the lads so exuberant and delighted. In the end we travelled back to the hotel and sat out on the terrace with the whole team and staff. We went over the whole situation once more and the players had Sunday off from training, so a few of them slept in a little later. Only a few were there for breakfast (grins).
herthabsc.com: After the quarantine, with a hectic schedule looming in which the team had to play every three days, there were plenty of doubters as to whether the team could do it. How were you able to overcome the challenges so successfully?
Hamzagić: During the quarantine, we tried to maintain contact with the team as best we could. To do that, we held talks, regularly phoning the boys and making sure the team spirit that we fostered since our arrival stayed high. We also divided the squad into groups in which they then watched our opponents’ matches on TV. That meant that the players had to carry out their own analysis of the opposition and then give their feedback afterwards. On top of that, all the players put in some really good work with Henrik Kuchno during the home training sessions. The boys really pressed forward and were well prepared for the games. Another factor was also the rotation that the coaching staff were so sure would work, both from the beginning and especially after the game against Mainz. By rotating we were able to withstand that huge workload – it worked really well. The entire squad – every single one of the boys – contributed to our survival.
herthabsc.com: As well as the rotation, team spirit and togetherness were big factors in our success. How did the coaching staff manage to instil that feeling of unity?
Hamzagić: Right from day one, Pál made it clear to everyone what it's about, that the most important thing is that we are a family, that we grow together and get through the difficult phase together. Everyone was aware from the beginning that we could only achieve our goals together! That's how we went about it – every single one of us. Not only us in the coaching staff, but Arne Friedrich and everyone surrounding the team too. We kept on making it clear to the squad that things only worked if we were a team. The togetherness was then clear to see in all of our games. We knew that every player would be important and that everyone could contribute to achieving our goal. There are plenty of successful examples of that, like Jessic Ngankam. 'Zecke' has spoken to Jessic a lot, showing him things in training and telling him that he's got it in his locker to score winning goals – and everyone knows how that came to fruition against Schalke! It was massively important to have every player together in the same boat.
herthabsc.com: Together with Pál, you have been responsible for the Bundesliga team again since the end of January. How has your daily work changed since your first time on the job?
Hamzagić: First of all, it is obviously the players that have changed. There are a few new faces around so for us coaches it was about getting to know the new players as quickly as possible. There's also a new member of the coaching staff, 'Zecke', with whom I hadn't worked so closely in the past. We had to find our feet relatively quickly in a short space of time. We did that well, though. In Arne Friedrich, we have a sporting director with whom we have worked really well right from day one. We also have plenty of other familiar faces from the first time around in Henrik Kuchno, Hendrik Vieth and Dominik Wohlert, so not a lot has changed in that respect. For that reason, it was a smooth transition settling back in. We knew them and they knew us – it was as if we'd never been away. Things like training and match preparation but also nothing new. Everything went seamlessly and there were no communication issues among the coaching staff. For Pál, 'Zecke' and myself, it was reallyjust about getting to know the team. We used the first few days to see what made the lads tick and then to work out how we would set up and what we had to improve.
[>]By rotating we were able to withstand that huge workload – it worked really well. The entire squad – every single one of the boys – contributed to our survival.[<]
herthabsc.com: How long did it take you to consider whether you wanted to work with the first team again?
Hamzagić: When Pál got the offer, he obviously called me and asked whether I was ready and whether I could see myself doing it again. Of course, I said yes right away. From the very beginning I was convinced that we would achieve survival. For me it was clear; if Pál wanted me there then I would be there in a heartbeat.
herthabsc.com: As you've already mentioned, there's a new member of your coaching staff in 'Zecke' Neuendorf. How have you found working with him?
Hamzagić: Fundamentally, we do everything together as a team and come to decisions together. As a trio, along with our analyst Dominik Wohlert, we have to be absolutely convinced when we come to final decisions. Our work is divided so that ‘Zecke' focuses more on set pieces and I tackle the analytical stuff. I take an in-depth look at our opponents’ strengths and weaknesses and work on a tactical plan based on my findings. That informs how we want to play with and without the ball. Then I give it to Pál and together we consider what we can take from it and in which areas we should adjust.
herthabsc.com: In contrast with some other clubs, you avoid placing a coach in the stands. Is there any particular reason for that?
Hamzagić: Dominik Wohlert sits in the stands for our games and we are connected by radio. We work in close contact with Dominik and trust him 100%. He is our eye in the sky. I have to filter the information that he gives us down below and then choose what messages I pass on to Pál. At half-time, we rewatch a few videos together and then decide what changes and adjustments we can make.
herthabsc.com: Finally, let's look ahead to this weekend. Despite all the joy about securing our place in the Bundesliga, we want to end the season on a high note with a win against TSG Hoffenheim. We also have a nice little streak to maintain...
Hamzagić: Exactly, this run that we're on is extremely important to us. We want to win the game in Hoffenheim no matter what. Every one of us is really ambitious and in the coaching staff we have this constant winning mentality. We want to end the season successfully, continue our run of unbeaten games and take this positive feeling with us into the new season! On top of that, we want to give Sami Khedira an unforgettable send-off because he has earned it at the end of an impressive career as an outstanding football player.