Hertha Berlin Seeks Ambitious January Targets After Heavy Investment

Throughout the top European leagues, capital cities are home to ambitious clubs that strive for success. London exemplifies this through Chelsea, Arsenal and, to a lesser extent, Spurs. Perennial winners Real Madrid and neighbors Atletico call the Spanish capital home. In Paris, PSG has turned Ligue 1 into a monopoly since its takeover by Qatar Sports Investment. Heated rivals AS Roma and Lazio compete for dominance of Italy's capital in their shared home, Stadio Olimpico. The only league which does not conform to this trend is Germany's Bundesliga. 

Hertha BSC is looking to change that.

A city such as Berlin is certainly deserving of a competitive team — apart from that, just about everything one could hope to find is attainable in the German capital. Over 6 million people call the Berlin metro area home. Hertha plays its home games in the Olmpyiastadion, which has the capacity to hold close to 75,000 spectators.

Despite that, Hertha's home attendance in the 2018-19 season averaged just over 49,000. The consistently average, uninspiring product on the field has not helped matters in that respect. 

With all that in mind, Hertha accepted a payment of $140 million in June from German entrepreneur Lars Windhorst in exchange for a 37.5 percent stake in the club. The initial agreement with Windhorst's holding company, Tennor Holding, included an option to purchase an additional 12.4 percent stake for another $110 million. 

Windhorst and Tennor exercised that option in November, bringing their stake in the club to 49.9 percent - the maximum allowed in Germany in keeping with the 50+1 rule which stipulates that a club must hold a majority of its own voting rights. This rule was implemented to protect the voice of the club's members, guaranteeing them overall control regardless of outside investment. Hertha is now looking to put the newly-acquired funds to good use and ring in the new decade with a flurry of transfer activity as it sets out on the path toward regular European qualification. 

Hertha has been heavily linked with central midfielder Lucas Tousart of Lyon in recent weeks. According to a report in French paper RMC Sport, Hertha has returned with a second bid of $28 million after Lyon rejected an opening offer of $22 million. Tousart, a defensive midfielder, would be a good addition for the capital club, providing more protection in front of the back four. Per WhoScored, he averages more tackles per game than any midfielder currently on the books at Hertha with 2.5 despite his team averaging more posession of the ball. 

In a team such as Jurgen Klinsmann's, which more often than not has the lesser share of possession, Tousart would likely be required to win back possession more frequently than is currently asked of him at Lyon. His acquisition would allow players like Marko Grujic to influence the game more from a position higher up the pitch, where he does not have to focus as much on preventing players from getting in behind him.

Grujic likes to shoot from outside the box and provides a strong aerial threat, as demonstrated by his knack for scoring from corners. Moving him closer to goal would pay dividends for Hertha. While the price required to pry Tousart loose from Lyon may seem a bit high, he is an important player for a struggling Lyon at the moment and would slot into the team right away should he arrive. 

The Old Lady, as Hertha is nicknamed in Germany, has also expressed interest in acquiring Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka, whose signing would represent a statement of intent and exemplify the step up in profile Hertha is seeking to make.

Xhaka has struggled to hit the heights expected of him since his highly-touted arrival and has experienced an especially turbulent 2019-20 season. He has a difficult relationship with Arsenal supporters as his displays have frequently left fans wanting and they have not been shy in letting him know.

At times though, segments of the support have crossed the line, harassing the Swiss international on social media and making insults and threats aimed at his family. The tension reached a boiling point in a match against Crystal Palace in October when supporters at the Emirates cheered his substitution and whistled him off the pitch. In response, Xhaka taunted the crowd by cupping his hand to his ear and waving on the boos, after which he took off his shirt and threw it on the ground.

He was stripped of the club captaincy as a result of that incident and it seems the situation has reached a point of no return. Despite Xhaka starting the first match of new manager Mikel Arteta's reign last week against Bournemouth, his agent Jose Noguera said in a statement reported by Sky Sports, "Look, I say it frankly and honestly: we agree with Hertha BSC and would like to go to Berlin. We told Arsenal's club boss Raul Sanllehi and sports director Edu - as well as the new trainer Mikel Arteta. Arsenal was informed about all the steps, the player and Hertha are clear. It is only about the transfer fee of the clubs."

According to the report, Xhaka could potentially cost the Berlin club just as much or more than Tousart with Arsenal seeking to gain up to the $39 million it paid to obtain him from Borussia Monchengladbach.

Xhaka would add further muscle to the Hertha midfield and could help improve their ability in possession of the ball. He completes over 87 percent of his passes, better than all but two Hertha players, and is difficult for opponents to muscle off the ball, being dispossessed less than once a game on average according to WhoScored.

Like Tousart, he would allow Grujic as well as Vladimir Darida to operate closer to the opponent's goal where they are more comfortable and effective. Darida ranks second among Hertha players in key passes per game at 1.7 (WhoScored). As a team, Hertha currently ranks last in the Bundesliga in that category and Darida, if freed from some of his defensive responsibilities, could help further fill the creative void left by the out of favor Ondrej Duda.

A midfield pairing of Tousart and Xhaka would provide solid cover to the defense and provide depth and options for Klinsmann in terms of how he wishes to set up his side.

While Hertha has not been linked with any forwards yet this winter (although PSG's Julian Draxler is another rumored target), look for the directors to try to sign a reliable goalscorer. The club ranks in the bottom half in goals scored and Salomon Kalou, who has been heavily relied upon the past few seasons, is out of favor and looking to depart.

In terms of senior players his exit will leave Hertha with only Davie Selke and club captain Vedad Ibisevic, now 35. 

The future looks bright for Hertha thanks to a fresh injection of cash and a new manager in Klinsmann. If the club is able to complete the transfers it is pursuing, it will be well placed to finish this term strong and give the team a platform to develop further next season with the medium-term goal to assert itself as a regular challenger for European qualification. It is certainly an exciting time to be a Hertha fan and Berliners could soon at long last have the ambitious team they deserve. 

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