After 51 consecutive years in the Bundesliga, Hamburger SV are facing a truly terrifying prospect: dropping down into the second division. But Hamburg do not plan to go gently, quietly sliding down the sloping path into 2. Bundesliga. No, this club is going to cling to the edge of safety, forcing their competitors to peel off their fingers one by one, leaving only claw marks behind as they plummet over the brink. With two weeks to go, HSV are down to a single thread. They are hanging on to the hope that spirit healing will give their squad a boost.
You read that right. Spirit healing. HSV have brought in Joseph Kuhner, a bioenergetics specialist whom the German media describe as a "spirit healer." As Hamburg are five points from safety, with games against title-holders Bayern Munich and Champions League aspirants Mainz left, they've reached the point where desperate measures make perfect sense.
Kuhner has actually worked with the club before, back in 2007. While it's not easy to find information about his previous time with Hamburg, if Kuhner was brought on board in February then he's worth whatever money they're paying him... and whatever ridicule they'll face. In 2006-2007, Hamburg won just once before Feb. 10. In those 20 Bundesliga matches, they drew 11 times, losing nine while also losing five of their six Champions League group stage matches. In their 14 remaining games, they recorded seven wins and three draws to ultimately finish seventh.
Of course, that might have had something to do with a managerial shift (Hubb Stevens replaced Thomas Doll on February 2), or the acquisition of Ivica Olić during the winter transfer window, or even just the conclusion of Champions League play. But let's say Kuhner was behind the transformation. If that's true, just how can he fix this ailing Hamburg side?
According to the International Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis, the practice "helps to release chronic muscular tensions, manage affects, expand the capacity for intimacy, heal sexual difficulties and learn new, more fulfilling ways of relating to others."
When asked about his work with the club, Kuhner said, "I bring body, soul and spirit back into harmony and accommodate the four elements." He went on to admit that he does not possess a magical formula that will help the club reach safety. "I can only help to bring the lads into harmony, because one thing is clear -- it's easier to access your full potential like that. They have more power, more energy. In the end, this has to be utilised on the pitch."
To most of us, this sounds like a load of New Age hogwash, particularly when you throw in Kuhner's comment that he is trained "in the storage of high energy in mountain crystals." But the basics behind the practice make perfect sense... to a desperate club fighting for its life, that is. "Bioenergetic Analysis starts with the reality of the body and its basic functions of motility and expression," states the founder of the practice, Dr. Alexander Lowen. If "motility" is used as its biological definition -- "ability to move spontaneously and independently" -- suddenly the reasoning behind hiring Kuhner becomes clearer.
René Adler, in particular, could use a little improvement in motility. The HSV goalkeeper will often produce a string of fine saves in a match, only to let his side down later in the game. In last weekend's 3-1 loss to Augsburg, for example, Halil Altintop had put Augsburg up 2-0 after just 25 minutes. Maybe that explains Adler's mindset when André Hahn put in a rather speculative shot from about 25 yards out, one that should've easily been collected. Instead, the keeper punched the ball straight into the ground, and was unable to scramble back into position to save his own shot.
Rafael van der Vaart, too, would likely benefit from a one-on-one session with Kuhner. Once a beloved player at HSV, the midfielder returned to the club in August 2012 after four years away. Now 31, the veteran is fading fast. Van der Vaart put in seven goals in the first half of the season, but his last goal came on December 21 having not scored in the eleven matches he's played since that time. Perhaps bringing his mind, body, and spirit into harmony would help reduce his injuries and improve his form?
Of course, there's also an issue if the definition of motility used is psychological: "Of or relating to mental imagery that arises primarily from sensations of bodily movement and position rather than from visual or auditory sensations." Just imagine it. HSV players lining up to face title-holders Bayern Munich, who are eager to compensate for their midweek 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Real Madrid. The whistle blows. Those red-shorts don't move. It's not that they're scared, it's that they're busy visualizing themselves running after the ball and moving into space.
Then again, considering that the last time Bayern came to town -- for the DFB Pokal quarter-finals -- the visitors won 5-0 and Mario Mandžukić scored a hat-trick, perhaps this idea deserves fair consideration. It may at least confuse Bayern.
But would bioenergetic analysis solve HSV's long-term troubles, or do they likely run too deep to be affected by mere crystals arranged into the Flower of Life? Hamburg have had a tough time of it since they lifted the European Cup in 1983. They managed to claim the domestic cup four years later, but haven't put any new trophies in the cabinet since 1987.
A common factor tying those two seasons is Felix Magath, whose goal secured the European Cup in a 1-0 win over Juventus, and who was HSV's sporting director in 1987. Earlier this season, Hamburg's directors planned to install Magath at the helm, believing he could be the one to keep the side safe. But the board dallied too long, and now Felix is at Fulham, helping them survive the drop. And, one assumes, focusing on good, old-fashioned physical exertion to help his side survive.
You have to think that Magath would've never allowed a man intent on arranging a bunch of stones into overlapping circles inside Hamburg's gates, but the club completely botched his potential appointment. Whispers of it began in February, when HSV lost 3-0 to Hoffenheim. At that time, however, club officials, fans, and the planets were all in alignment with the tea leaves foretelling a continuation of Bert van Marwijik at the helm.
Then Hertha Berlin, freshly promoted, came to town on February 8. Adler looked a changed man, a man with his energies in perfect harmony, as he saved a penalty from Adrián Ramos in the 15th minute. But the resulting corner was put in by Sami Allagui and Hamburg, who as a side were clearly not buzzing on the same wavelength, disconnected their minds from their spirit and moved about the pitch like zombies. Ramos scored two, and Hamburg ended the night second from bottom.
This dismal performance failed to signal that the club desperately needed the help of Kuhner, so fans took matters into their own hands. Hundreds turned up at the gates of the Imtech Arena, demanding the board be sacked. Van der Vaart's solution was to attempt to brawl with the fans, displaying just how out of balance the Dutchman had become.
A crisis meeting was called to discuss installing the level-headed Magath, but the two-thirds majority needed to oust van Marwijk could not be raised. It seems the advisory board believed sporting director Oliver Kreuzer, who said "We don't have a managerial problem, we have a defensive problem."
But just as the spirit, mind and body must be in alignment to produce harmony of person, so too must many factors inside a football club. It's true that Hamburg have a defensive problem. With 68 goals conceded, they're the worst in the Bundesliga. Yet the lack of a stable backline and a clear tactical approach have certainly contributed to their defensive woes. That hasn't been helped by the managerial merry-go-round, with latest manager Mirko Slomka shifting formations and constantly changing personnel.
HSV don't need spiritual healing so much as a complete overhaul of the system they've stitched together. The club needs a new advisory board, who are able to find a coach that can work with the players already in the squad. Many of these players are in perfect harmony already, including young top scorers Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Hakan Calhanoglu (although Lasogga could use a good, traditional healer to help him overcome a nagging injury). And a crystal ball's not needed to show that van der Vaart's time as a regular starter has passed.
The time for considered, reasonable decisions has passed, however. And so in steps Kuhner, ready to arrange his crystals, align the four elements and create harmony amongst the squad. His spiritual healing can't hurt, and one aspect just might improve both players' lives and the way they play the game.
Switch up your playlists, everyone, because now...
To paraphrase Salt-n-Pepa, those who think it's dirty have a choice: close the tab, click the next link or turn your browser off. Because Marvin Gaye had it right when he crooned
Sexual healing is good for me
Makes me feel so fine, it's such a rush
Helps to relieve the mind, and it's good for us
Cast aside, for a moment, the opinions of so many national team coaches who prevent partners from being present with the players and even prohibit sex during the World Cup. After all, Brazil's coach, Luis Felipe Scolari, isn't outlawing sex during the tournament. He's simply requesting his players keep the acrobatics to a minimum. Scolari knows a prohibition on sex is more likely to frustrate players, rather than prompt them to play their best.
Let's face it. If you're a big strong athlete who's having trouble in the sack, that's likely affecting your emotional state. Line up the energies, release the tensions, and produce a man that's suddenly a sexual stud. There's a spring in his step and a vitality to his movements. Suddenly he's able to chase down attackers, win the ball, execute perfect tackles. Maybe even find the vision needed to score a goal.
Perhaps this spirit healing thing isn't such a bunk, after all.