If a foreign onlooker had a quick glance at the Bundesliga table, they would be forgiven if they didn’t recognise the name Hoffenheim at the top of the league. Only a small village team, the clubs rise through the leagues is a tale of almost Roy of the Rovers proportions. Their story has both it’s supporters and its sceptics and here we look at how Hoffenheim went from the Fifth Division to the pinnacle of German football in just 8 years.
As with most modern football clubs, the key was financial backing, and when former player Dietmar Hoff came in for the club in the early 90s, they acquired his vast fortune, earned from the founding of his own software company. At the time, it could have been seen as a poor investment, as realistically he can’t have expected the team to become such a success so quickly, and football clubs generally don’t make a lot of income. But Hoff invested a staggering £120m in facilities for the club, including a new training centre which would become the centre of their success. Hoff insisted on a policy that home grown players would be produced and move into the first team, this philosophy would prove a wise move as Hoffenheim moved up through the divisions into the 3rd division. Despite the success of the current regime, it was decided that the club needed something more if they were to progress further, and Hoff decided the first step was a new manager. Ralf Rangnick was the man he chose. With a CV that includes a host of big Bundesliga clubs, it was obvious he was the right man for the job and Hoffenheim hoped for promotion within the next few seasons.
They didn’t expect the promotion to come at the first time of asking though, and Rangnick guided the side to a second place finish, ensuring a place in the Bundesliga 2 for the coming season. The Hoffenheim dream was taking shape, but the next step would be the biggest of all. Could they really gain promotion to the elite, to the Bundesliga? Remarkably, they again finished second, meaning top flight football for the 2008/09 season, but could this be too much, too soon? Although they had done well to get this far, their squad was surely not good enough to compete, even after the signings of Brazilians such as Wellington. But, this is a club that just loves to surprise people, and their meteoric rise continued this season, where they currently lead the Bundesliga. Although rival clubs have claimed they have bought their way to the top, this is a far cry from Abramovich’s Chelsea, and is probably closer to the way Gretna rose up through the Scottish leagues, although the former recently went bust, with the owner unable to cope with the financial needs of a top flight club. Hoff has assured his club will not follow suit, he has longer term ambitions. There are plans for a new 30,000 seater stadium, and new fans are being found all the time. They are still a small, village team but the future is bright for Hoffenheim and in a few years time, maybe we will be talking about them in the same way as the Bayern Munich’s of this world. We will have to wait and see if the fairytale continues, but for now the people of this small German village are just living the dream and enjoying the ride. One things for sure, life is never boring for a fan of 1899 Hoffenheim.