BERLIN (Reuters) - Bruno Labbadia might have been seen as a rather desperate appointment by Hertha Berlin but his reputation as a coaching "fireman" has been consolidated by a flying start to his job.
Labbadia became Hertha’s fourth coach of the season when they hired him in April, amid the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, turning to a man whose trips on the Bundesliga carousel have taken him to a record 10 different clubs as player and coach.
Hertha were six points above the relegation zone when the 54-year-old Labbadia took over and his task was to stop them from slipping into further danger.
"With Bruno we get someone who has known the Bundesliga in detail for many years as a player and coach and has shown that he can stabilise teams," Hertha technical director Michael Preetz said.
Labbadia’s impact has been a lot more than that, however, turning Hertha into one of the few form sides since the resumption of action in mid-May.
They have jumped up the standings with 10 points from four games under his command and can now ponder the possibility of qualifying for European competition next season.
They are only four points off sixth place in the table which offers a berth in the Europa League, although have five tough remaining fixtures, starting with Borussia Dortmund away on Saturday.
"After 35 years in the Bundesliga as a player and coach, I am still hungry – especially if we continue the way we are playing now," said Labbadia after Saturday’s 2-0 home win over FC Augsburg.
"But we still have a lot of work ahead of us. We must remain humble and try to improve further together! We defend together, we attack together.”
Left back Maximilian Mittelstadt said the turnaround was due to improved team spirit.
"We are all fighting for one another. Our best attribute at the moment is that we are covering up for each other's mistakes," he said.
"We have taken on Bruno Labbadia's ideas and are working well as a team, something that had been missing previously. We want to continue this good run in the final few weeks."
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ed Osmond)