Why Walace Might Come to Embody the New Hamburg

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As it stands, Hamburg aren’t exactly in an ideal position. They’re languishing in the Bundesliga, and having recorded a mere 16 points from their 20 matches to date, it would be an understatement to say that they’ve been struggling for traction. Throw in the fact that they’ve just recently sacked manager Marcus Gisdol, and it’s hard to use any other word than turbulent to describe their season so far.

Over the weekend, though, a silver lining emerged. Under new manager Bernd Hollerbach, Der Dino secured an impressive point against RB Leipzig. Hollerbach was quick to talk about this in the wake of his first game in charge, arguing that it was “great to be able to get a point at the second-best home team in the league.” Despite the importance of the point, which took Hamburg ever closer to escaping the relegation zone, the performance itself would’ve been even more pleasing for the new boss.

Hollerbach enjoyed the “heart and passion” displayed by his line-up, something attacker Filip Kostic was eager to back up. “We stood together throughout,” he said, before reaffirming Hollerbach’s words by adding that “We put on a strong fight.” These sentiments were echoed by many of the players on the day, and in a lot of ways, it’s hard to argue with them.

Hamburg have been struggling massively, but playing within Hollerbach’s 3-4-1-2 formation, they acquitted themselves with steel and smarts. In the early going, they had a fair bit of trouble dealing with Leipzig’s quickfire transitions, and they conceded an early goal as a consequence of that. Aaron Hunt took a poor touch, and a couple of Leipzig passes later, Portuguese winger Bruma was nodding the ball into the back of the net. That called for something of a rethink, and by sitting back to a greater degree and allowing Leipzig to make more of the running themselves, Hamburg were able to minimise their exposure to RBL’s counter-attacking quality.

Hamburg were also eager to ensure that Walace, who has been brought back in from the cold following Gisdol’s dismissal, sat back to screen the back four. The burly Brazilian therefore added an additional layer of protection for the back three, and with his hard working defensive efforts, which included three tackles and four interceptions, he put in a shift that suggested he was re-committed to the cause.

In fact, Walace might end up becoming the guy who epitomises the new direction at Hamburg. Under Gisdol, he was omitted from the first two games following the winter break. That was because of what Hamburg’s official website describes as extending “his holiday in his home country over Christmas on his own accord.” Not a great move from the Brazilian, but given his wife’s pregnancy and his desire to leave the club at the time, perhaps not an overly surprising one either.

The situation led to plenty of rumours about proposed transfers to take him back to Brazil, with clubs like Atletico Mineiro and Flamengo mentioned among the suitors, but once Hollerbach took over at Hamburg, the Brazilian shifted his thinking. The club website asserted that the new boss was eager to speak to the former Gremio enforcer immediately after signing on for the club, and after a series of meetings, sporting director Jens Todt emerged with a surprising set of comments.

“The situation is resolved,” he said. “We’ve resolved our differences. Walace has pledged his full commitment to the club and to support us going forward.” Given the speculation, it may have seemed an unlikely turn of events, and with time still remaining in the current transfer window, who knows whether it will remain the final outcome. Putting that aside, though, it speaks to Hollerbach’s ability as a communicator to win back the Brazilian’s commitment, and as a former Hamburg player himself, his connection to the club might just enable him to get the team to work as a collective.

Gotoku Sakai talked of Hollerbach’s effort to “inject some confidence” into the squad upon his arrival, while defender Rick van Drongelen argued that the new boss “placed a huge focus on discipline and unity.” The coach himself, while speaking ahead of the Leipzig match, talked about what he wanted from the team in similar terms. “The first thing to do will be to be a proper unit,” he said, before adding that Hamburg need to ensure that “we have a system on the pitch and we are stable.” He continued to say that compactness in defence and making his team tough to break down will be the first items on his agenda, and if the performance against RBL is anything to go by, he’s already on the way to achieving that.

Der Dino looked good defensively for the most part, and although many of their attacking moves broke down pretty quickly, they showed some promise in that regard as well. The move that allowed them to equalise was evidence of that, as Sakai played a piercing vertical ball out of defence to find Bobby Wood. The American then laid it off for talented youngster Gideon Jung, who followed up with a lovely flick in behind the Leipzig backline for Kostic. The former Stuttgart man finished the job from that point on, rounding goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi to score.

They also produced a couple of promising counter-attacks after half-time, so even though goals have been hard to come by – HSV have registered only 16 in 20 league game to date – there were at least positive signs. Walace was particularly good, and though he may miss a game or two, due to Hollerbach allowing him to return to Brazil for the birth of his child, there’s a sense that his hard-edged midfield play could be key to keeping Hamburg up.

In that sense, the Olympic gold medal winner and senior Brazil international might have a large role to play, and if Hollerbach can get him to fully buy into the club and the system he hopes to implement, it will be a massive bonus for Hamburg. Either way, though, the new coach has plenty of work ahead of him if he’s to enable the club, which is the only one in Germany to contest every single Bundesliga season, to stay up.

It’s all been positive so far, and if that continues, then there’s no reason why the famous clock at the Volksparkstadion, which indicates how long Der Dino have been playing in the Bundesliga, can’t keep on ticking beyond the current campaign.

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