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Soccer-No end in sight to crisis at 'catastrophic' Hamburg

Reuters

Feb 6 (Reuters) - Hamburg SV's proud record as the Bundesliga's only ever-present team is in increasing danger as the seven-times German champions find themselves mired in crisis both on and off the field.

Bert van Marwijk's team, 17th in the 18-team league, have dropped into the relegation zone after five successive league defeats in which they have made an unfortunate habit of conceding silly goals.

The Dutchman, Hamburg's eleventh coach in the last seven seasons, has been cleared of blame for the shambolic defensive performances although it is not clear how long the club's patience will last.

"We have been catastrophic," said midfielder Rafael van der Vaart after a 3-0 defeat to Hoffenheim last Saturday, the fourth consecutive match that Hamburg have shipped three goals.

"There's not much that the coach can do about that. We understand the system. We lack quality."

Club chairman Carl Jarchow has promised that van Marwijk's job is not under threat regardless of the result against eighth-placed Hertha Berlin on Saturday (1730 GMT).

"Even if we lost against Berlin, that would not change our trust in van Marwijk," Jarchow told Kicker magazine. "We keep changing the coach here and, once again, the position is being talked about. But it annoys me that the highly-paid players keep losing concentration. We are happy that van Marwijk is at Hamburg."

Van Marwijk took over in September, replacing Thorsten Fink who was fired five league matches into the season which included a 6-2 loss to Borussia Dortmund and 5-1 home defeat by Hoffenheim.

The former Netherlands coach initially steadied the ship, beginning with a four-match unbeaten run, but the holes started re-appearing around the Christmas break and his side now have the worst defensive record in the league, having conceded 44 goals.

CLUB DEBTS

The problems are not just on the field and Jarchow said in January that the club had debts of around 100 million euros ($135.33 million), concerns which have been exacerbated by a number of expensive signings who have failed to impress.

The club's old-fashioned structure is another worry.

Hamburg are one of the few top-flight clubs to use the traditional German system where club members elect a supervisory board, which in turn chooses a four-member board of directors.

Although democratic, critics say the system is unwieldy and hampers the club's ability to do business especially as, in this case, the supervisory board has to approve any expenditure over 500,000 euros.

At a recent meeting of members, 80 percent voted in favour of a plan called "HSV plus," which would separate the professional football team from the rest of club, convert it into a joint stock company and open the way for investors.

Concrete plans are now being drawn up and will be a put to a vote in May or June, although relegation would seriously dent their value in the eyes of potential investors.

At the top of the table, unbeaten Bayern Munich visit Nuremberg on Saturday (1430), who have staged something of a mini-revival and picked up their first two wins of the season since Christmas.

With a 13-point lead over Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern appear almost certain to retain their title and the only question is whether they can do it earlier than last season when they wrapped it up with a record six games to spare.

Leverkusen, who have 40 points, have a tough match at fifth-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach on Friday (1930). Third-placed Borussia Dortmund are away to Werder Bremen on Saturday.

($1 = 0.7390 euros) (Reporting by Brian Homewood; editing by Josh Reich)

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