Pitchside Europe

Babbel in trouble as Hoff stumble


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Markus Babbel's problems resembled the Tower of Babel last week so the Hoffenheim coach must have been grateful for a home banker against rock bottom Greuther Fuerth at the weekend.

With one of his best players in a coma, Babbel needed three points to lift club spirits but his side inexplicably lost the lead three times in a wonderful 3-3 draw. Given that newly-promoted Fuerth had only scored twice in seven games this season, Babbel's pre-match insistence that Hoffenheim are European quality now looks risible.

Not all of Babbel's problems are of his own making. Hoffenheim have drawn sympathy from across Germany following a car crash last month that left Boris Vukcevic, one of the club's best youngsters, fighting for his life in a coma. Vukcevic's car collided with a 40-ton truck as he was travelling to training, with tests showing he had a low level of blood sugar.

The midfielder's condition is slowly improving, but the incident will cast a shadow over the rest of the season. The danger now is that football problems won't be addressed: Hoffenheim's summer transfer policy is starting to look misjudged, top players are not performing, while injuries and suspensions are mounting up.

The Bundesliga did its best to build up Friday's match against Fuerth, the 15,000th match in the history of the league, but few were expecting the fireworks that followed.

The promoted minnows of Fuerth had scored just twice all season (one of those an own goal) so for Hoffenheim to lead three times and still not win was a bombshell.

In truth, Hoff always looked fragile. ''We knew we had the will to break them," said Fuerth coach Mike Buskens.

Indeed, Fuerth should have been two up before Roberto Firmino headed the hosts in front. Under-pressure striker Joselu, a new signing from Real Madrid, scored his second and third goals of the season, but Hoff were stunned by an injury time equalizer from Lasse Sobiech.

''We didn't tie up the match when we could, and we must learn from this,'' Babbel said. ''But we'll never give up. I have no doubt about the quality of the squad. We have experienced players and young guns, a good mix. We just need to add consistency.''

Babbel was without the suspended Daniel Williams and Sejad Salihovic at the weekend, while 27-year-old former German international Tobias Weis is suffering the ignominy of being banished to the youth team.

So two players made debuts, including Denis Streker, who wasn't even listed as a first-team player on the official club website on the day of the match. The best news was a refreshing display from another debutant, substitute Vincenzo Grifo, who was praised for playing ''street football'' by club general manager Andreas Muller.

Babbel has few playing options. Chris, the Brazilian summer signing, is out for another three weeks, just days after returning from another injury. "We just have to keep working hard," Babbel said this week.

Hoffenheim, 11th last season, have already been humiliated in a 4-0 cup defeat against seventh-tier Berliner AK 07 so are desperate to reach the upper echelons of the Bundesliga.

''I have gathered a lot of experience and I can tell you we almost made it (to Europe) last season, even though we were danger of relegation. If we invest a little more, we can do it,'' Babbel insists.

But questions are being asked about the summer's transfer activity. Club owner and billionaire Dietmar Hopp has long since stopped trying to be a German Roman Abramovich and must be wondering about the players that joined the club over the summer.

German football bible Kicker recently named Tim Wiese as the worst summer transfer in the Bundesliga. But perhaps worryingly for Hoff fans, the former Bremen keeper had a decent game against Fuerth and can't be blamed for the loss. Still, former international Wiese, back after a five-week injury lay-off, has now conceded 14 goals in four starts.

Meanwhile Eren Derdiyok, a 5.5 million euro buy from Bayer Leverkusen, also made Kicker's list of worst summer buys.

''I had big plans when I came here,'' the Switzerland international said this week. ''But I haven't proved what I can do in the opening games. I feel a burden, I feel cramped.''

Other new signings include experienced defender Mathieu Delpierre, who hasn't managed to stop Hoffenheim leaking 17 goals, the worst record in the Bundesliga.

Meanwhile, the list of talent allowed to leave the club includes keeper Tom Starke, strikers Chinedu Obasi and Srdan Lakic and midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Hoffenheim need to turn things around quickly, and this weekend have a south-west derby against probably the best run club in Germany, little Mainz, who are sitting comfortably in eighth.

Another defeat will leave Hoffenheim's European dreams in serious peril.

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