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Bundesliga sleeping giants take a punt on superstars

The new Bundesliga season sees two former Real Madrid stars take up positions for two grand old clubs who, in their own eyes at least, have gone without success for far too long: Ruud van Nistelrooy for Hamburg SV and Raul for Schalke 04, the latter arriving on Wednesday after his emotional departure from the Santiago Bernabeu.

Hamburg have not won the Bundesliga since Kevin Keegan’s perm showed the way for an entire generation of Germans. Since those halcyon and hairsuit days, they have tried to wrestle the trophy from Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen, Stuttgart, Borussia Dortmund, Kaiserslautern (yes Kaiserslautern have won the Championship since Hamburg, twice in fact) and of course, Wolfsburg without success. In fact, the last time the Northern club even managed to finish runner up in the League was waaay back in 1987.

Schalke, on the other hand have never won the Bundesliga since the competition was formed in 1963. However, unlike Hamburg they’ve come mighty close. No more so than in 2007 when they were pipped by Stuttgart after losing on the penultimate day of the season to their arch-rivals Dortmund. The Royal Blues last won a national championship in 1958 when they beat Hamburg in the final.

This season, both clubs have head coaches who were the last men to win a Bundesliga title and not work for FC Bayern (Hamburg boss Armin Veh won the aforementioned 2007 while Schalke’s Felix Magath delivered a maiden title to Wolfsburg two years later) . Both coaches are putting a great deal of faith in that each of their high profile strikers will lead their teams to success.

Of course, Van Nistelrooy has been at Hamburg for half a season already. He joined in the winter transfer window and scored five goals. While injury did cause the former Manchester United legend to miss a few games, he still managed to make eleven league appearances. If he plays a full season with that goal ratio then Hamburg fans may expect his goals to power their team into the Champions League, or higher. The operative word being “if”.

Raul’s goal-scoring form raises different questions. Unlike his former team mate, the Spaniard played 30 games last season. However, he only managed five goals. There could be any number of reasons why the two time Pichichi winner yielded such a modest total. Perhaps the tactics didn’t agree with him? Maybe he couldn’t get the ball off of Cristiano Ronaldo? However, at 32, his coach will believe that he can recover his touch in the Bundesliga and score a barrel load of goals.

Either way, by bringing in such big name players in an advanced stage of their careers, both Schalke and Hamburg are taking a calculated risk. Nevertheless, the pair (especially Raul who is a real legend) will do much to raise the profile of the Bundesliga and attract great interest and anticipation from the fans. They should flog a few extra tickets as well. Whether they can bring silver to these trophy starved clubs remains to be seen.

By way of a post script is is worth pointing out that although Hamburg and Schalke should be congratulated for bringing such big names to the Bundesliga, it should not be ignored that these player were surplus to requirements at Real Madrid. Meanwhile, Stuttgart’s Sami Khedira, one of the young guns of Germany’s World Cup squad, looks set to leave Germany for Madrid before the start of the season.

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