Despite their recent struggles -- and a mere three decades since they last won the League Championship -- Hamburg SV reiterated their stance as an influential power in German Football by securing the second of an exciting pair, rated as two of the best talents coming through in the 3.Liga.
The Winter Break has been quiet in the immediate transfer-front for Hamburg in their preparation for Sunday's game at the Frankenstadion where they managed to collect a point. Behind the scenes, though, Hamburg are preparing for the long-term with plans to build a brand-new youth academy campus adjacent to the Imtech Arena. Their sharpness in approaching players has paid dividends, recently signing Borussia Dortmund II midfielder Kerem Demirbay on a four-year-deal which starts in the summer.
The 19-year-old central midfielder has had a fine season in the third tier of German football with Dortmund's second team, although, in the long-run, finds himself competing against a ridiculous luxury of midfielders at Signal Iduna Park. The signing of Nuri Sahin for the next 18 months -- with the option of a longer stay -- has forced even Moritz Leitner further down the pecking order, never mind young Demirbay.
The Turkish U20 international wore the Yellow-and-Black 16 times in the first-half of the campaign, as the young Dortmunders have struggled in a fairly competitive league that leaves them in the relegation positions. In KICKER's 3.Liga rankings in the midfield position, Demirbay sits as the 11th best based on their match-by-match rating system. His elegant left-footed style has seen comparisons with Mesut Özil and fellow Turkish national Sahin.
"I'm incredibly happy he has chosen us. Kerem is a great talent and he has the quality to prevail in this league. He's only 19 years old but already a key player in his team. Kerem can play in all midfield. We totally believe in him," sporting director Frank Arnesen told Hamburger Morgenpost.
Before things had even kicked off in August, the former Chelsea director of football secured the signature of attacking-midfielder Hakan Çalhanoğlu from Karlsruher SC on a four-year contract until 2016. This season, though, the 18-year-old has been back at his old club on a season-long loan and has inspired them to second-place in the 3.Liga by the New Year with his seven goals and nine assists in 21 league matches. He even helped them to dump out his parent club, HSV, in the first-round of the DFB Pokal with an assist in a stunning 4-2 win.
Another Turkish youth internationalist, Çalhanoğlu is a wonderfully-gifted ‘No.10' playmaker who likes to take up advanced positions, close to the main forward. He has a terrific range of passing, quick feet to manoeuvre out of tight positions and a clinical eye for an attacking pass. Arnesen described him as an "intelligent player" in August and someone who could be missing creative link in Hamburg's squad.
Head coach Thorsten Fink has been in a precarious position at the Volkspark, since returning to Germany from his successful spell across the border at FC Basel in Switzerland at the tail-end of 2011. The former FC Bayern player has formed a close relationship with Arnesen over the last 12 months and is making strides to restoring some glory with the North German giants.
Results have taken central importance, thus far, mainly, to preserve Hamburg's position in the competitive Bundesliga - but significant improvement has been made under Fink with the team playing a more cohesive style, whilst looking a lot more assured at the back which had been a problematic area for them last season. Fink has led Hamburg to respective 10thplace by Christmas and just two points away from a place in the European slots for next season.
Less than two years ago, following Arnesen's arrival, and his influx of Chelsea talent -- which overall has proved to be an epic failure -- Hamburg plunged towards the bottom of the table, as a consequence of severely cutting the wage budget at the club, which saw them lose Frank Rost, Joris Mathijsen, Ze Roberto and Ruud Van Nistelrooy that summer. It was the first signs, similarly to Werder Bremen, that Hamburg could not sustain an extensive playing budget because there was no guarantee of Champions League football. Since then, veteran David Jarolim has departed -- albeit returned as a youth development coach -- and so have 30-year-old Guy Demel and David Rozenhal.
A sign that Hamburg are looking to create a sustainable transfer model: a stream of young talent is progressing through the ranks and the club is picking up some promising signings from outside of the club. Apart from the early months in his tenure, their Danish football supremo has shown astuteness in identifying talent, such as, Milan Badelj and Artjoms Rudnevs who have been impressive in the Red Shorts this season.
Slowly, but surely, Hamburg are beginning to build a team under the reign of Arnesen, who faced an angry backlash from the supervisory board in 2012 for the club's disappointing performances, and their focus on off-loading those earning the highest wages, with a reduced long-term return for the club is creating a freshness around the camp.
With Demirbay and Çalhanoğlu tied up for next season, complementing the experience of Rafael Van der Vaart and Rene Adler - Hamburg adding the essential blocks to building a side that could come from left-field to challenge for European berths.
Are there exciting times ahead for the former European Cup winners?