Was ist den mit den Hoppers los?

“What’s up with the Hoppers?” might be a question you’d be asking yourself. Perhaps a little background is in order. In the early 1990s, TSG Hoffenheim was an unknown club kicking about in the 7th division or so. However, as it turns out, things were about to change rapidly. Dietmar Hopp, co-founder of business management software giant SAP (and if you’ve ever dealt with SAP, you’d know it’s a giant…although mostly of the pain-in-the-ass variety) and one of Germany’s richest men, decided he wanted to “help”. Now if Hopp been a simple egomaniac, he could have done what others have done and just bought himself an EPL club. Then, when tired of his toy, just flush it down the toilet like Portsmouth or perhaps soon to be Chelski and ManCity. But this being Germany, you can’t do that. By law, nobody can have more than 50% of the shares. In fact, there’s the “50+1” rule which basically means that the majority owners must be the regular club members – one man, one vote. All you have to do is join the club, and voila!, you’re an owner. (In modern day, it’s a bit more complicated, but the basic tenet is still true).

Now Hopp actually had another motive, since despite Hoffenheim being close to SAP HQ in Walldorf, it was the club he had actually kicked for when he was a boy. So that automatically makes him better than most of the scumbags that have invested in EPL clubs. Anyway, Hopp started pumping money into the club, building state-of-art facilities, spending massive amounts in youth programs and of course funding expensive player transfers. For the members, it must have been like a fairy tale. They were still largely ignored elsewhere until 2008, when they popped in the Bundesliga and led until winterbreak. Fans around Germany rose in anger from the “moneybags”, but things began to quiet down when Hoffenheim proved to be not that good and basically ended mid-table…where they’ve generally been since.

Now the story takes another twist. Hopp has been quite vocal that the club can’t rely on his money forever, and indeed, many of the high priced players have been sold-on. He’s also expressed disappointment that despite all the youth investment, none of the youth players have made it into the main squad. At the same time, various sources have accused Hoffenheim of a violation of the 50+1 rule, basically seeing Hopp’s undue influence in the club as basically ownership. (For those who speak German, there’s an interesting series of articles in “Die Zeit”, e.g. http://www.zeit.de/sport/2012-09/hopp-hoffenheim-tsg-bundesliga) that outlines how he used a golf-club and some shell company to funnel money). From Hopp’s standpoint, he’s invested some 240 million, and although he says he doesn’t regret it, if he had to do it all over, he might do some things differently, especially with regards to the professional squad. Officially, he doesn’t run the club, but you’d certainly have to be naive to say he’s not in charge.

Another shadow hanging over Hoffenheim is the player agent firm Rogon. (No relation with Rogaine). Something like 10 players are represented by this firm, and this has raised a lot of suspicion. For one thing, Rogon has often been involved in somewhat scandalous situations, like Waldhof (1997-2001), Kaiserslautern (2002), Schalke (until 2007). Rumours of kickbacks, forced sale and purchases have abound. (FCK president Jürgen Friedrich went to jail for tax-evasion likely related to that period). Some see the sale of players like Luis Gustavo as forced by Rogon, which collected massive sell on fees. Also, sometimes clubs are forced by Rogon to bring in other worthless players on “package” deals to get the one they want. The other criticism is that the represented players form a clique in the squad that is detrimental. Who knows whether this is all true. But of course the newly appointed manager is none other than Andreas Müller, who was the boss at Schalke when Rogon was rampant there…

So what does it mean for Hoffenheim’s future? The club still has money, but obviously will not be spending like a drunken sailor. They’ve appeared to at least built somewhat of a following, as they’re in a region that generally hasn’t had any decent teams. If managed correctly, they still have enough talent to hang around the Bundesliga. However it’s very clear that they are no threat to “buy the title”. Perhaps Hopp’s dream of having some home grown youth players in the squad will come true. (Although other clubs accuse Hoffenheim of stealing their talents, I guess Hopp just can’t win, hehehe).


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