Pitchside Europe

Are Hamburg the genuine article?

Hamburg's Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart (AFP)

Hamburg SV might have felt insulted last week when they were described as ''half a club'' by Borussia Dortmund.

But Dortmund's chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke wasn't knocking the club from the north, simply alluding to their massive potential.

''In Germany there are three and a half big clubs that have nationwide appeal,'' Watzke explained before his team's match against Hamburg. ''Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Schalke and Hamburg are close behind.''

Avoiding the bottom three rather than challenging the top trio has been Hamburg's priority of late, but after a stunning 4-1 rout at the home of the champions on Saturday, the Red Shorts are now just six points behind the fourth and final Bundesliga Champions League spot.

More performances like the one at Signal Iduna Park and European football won't seem like such a fantasy.

Back in September Hamburg ended Dortmund's run of 31 undefeated matches (thus preserving HSV's own record of 36), and they completed a first double over Dortmund in five seasons with a performance of class, discipline, firepower - and a little cheating.

First, the controversy. Hamburg got a huge boost when Dortmund star Robert Lewandowski was sent off after half an hour for a wild kick on Per Skjelbred. Hamburg's Rafael van der Vaart later admitted to ''kicking up a fuss'' to persuade referee Manuel Grafe to show the Pole a red card. "I had the feeling the ref would not have given a red card otherwise," he said.

Without a hint of irony, Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp called the Dutchman's statement "the worst sentence I have ever heard in my life.'' But that incident should not overshadow a deserved win. Hamburg were 2-1 up at the time and finished with 10 men themselves once Jeffrey Bruma had been shown red with more than half an hour to play.

Coach Thorsten Fink masterminded HSV's best result of the season so far. Saturday's match against Borussia Monchengladbach will show if these Burgers are 100 per cent genuine, or a mere flash in the pan.

What could hold Hamburg back is a scary dependence on their two strikers. Never have Latvian and South Korean football combined so well.

Artjoms Rudnevs and Son Heung-Min have bagged 19 of Hamburg's paltry total of 26 goals this term, a staggering 73 per cent.

The speedy Latvian (Bundesliga's stat service tells us he has the fastest sprint in the league) deserves plenty of credit after being panned by the regional press on his arrival from Lech Poznan.

The general criticism of Rudnevs was along the lines of ''you're no Mladen Petric.''

Rudnevs can now reply in the affirmative with a smile on his face: Petric averaged fewer than 10 Bundesliga strikes a season at Hamburg - Rudnevs scored two quality goals at the weekend to bring his tally into double figures with 13 games left to play.

Then there's Rudnevs's young strike partner Son, probably the most enigmatic youngster in Germany. Capable of drifting out of matches completely, the South Korean followed up his match winning two goals in September against Dortmund with two more on Saturday.

Son's first was the most spectacular goal of the weekend by a country mile: he made the über-reliable Mats Hummels look pedestrian before skinning Sven Bender and firing in from distance.  Hamburg inflicted Dortmund's worst home defeat since 2009, so where does the ''Dinosaur'' of the Bundesliga go from here?

There's no doubting HSV's massive potential. Hamburg are hardly spectacular, but more than 50,000 fans regularly turn up at the Imtech Arena. The only club to have played in the top flight for the Bundesliga's 50 years of existence, Hamburg were 1983 European champions, and hail from one of the wealthiest corners of Europe. ''I would love to have the number of millionaires in Hamburg here in Dortmund'', Watzke opined. ''These days it helps if you're in a city that is bursting with economic power.''

Deloitte's recent Football Money League listed HSV as the 18th richest in the world by revenues. And with Berlin not represented in the top flight, Hamburg is the biggest city with a Bundesliga team.

The club is seemingly at a turning point. They have already won more matches than in the whole of last season, yet in terms of goalscoring this is the third worst season in those 50 years of Bundesliga football.

Just as Hamburg count too much on Son and Rudnevs on the pitch, off it they are too dependent on Klaus-Michael Kühne.

Germany's seventh wealthiest man is an avid Red Shorts fan and has co-financed the acquisition of big players like Van der Vaart and Heiko Westermann. But that has not stopped HSV being on course to lose at least €13 million this year, a huge sum by Bundesliga standards.  If the club yields to pressure to sell talent like Son, HSV fans will have to wait many more years to join Germany's elite.

Andreas Evagora, Eurosport 2