FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Rafael van der Vaart has returned to his second homeland with expectations on him to restore some glamor to Hamburger SV and, more importantly, save the Bundesliga club from relegation.
Hamburg is the only club never to have been relegated in 50 years of the Bundesliga, but the former European champion has been struggling in recent years and barely escaped demotion last season.
Having started the new season with two defeats, Hamburg turned to a wealthy businessman and club supporter who provided the cash required to bring Van der Vaart from Tottenham, estimated at €13 million ($16.7 million).
Van der Vaart will make his debut on Sunday at Eintracht Frankfurt, the promoted team that is 2-0 and shares the lead with Bayern Munich.
When asked if Hamburg has the potential to move to the upper ranks of the league, Van der Vaart said, "First we have to win a game. But it's early in the season, everything is possible."
The Netherlands midfielder achieved somewhat of a cult status among Hamburg fans during his first three seasons in northern Germany from 2005 to 2008.
He was the club's top scorer with 29 goals and in his first season Hamburg finished third. The second season was less successful with HSV sliding to seventh. But it bounced back to fourth before Van der Vaart departed for Real Madrid.
Ever since then, the club often called "the Dinosaur" for its longevity in the Bundesliga has been on the way down, finishing worse every consecutive season, with the last two in 15th place.
Hamburg chief executive Carl-Edgar Jarchow decided to act after two defeats in the new season and brought back Van der Vaart.
"He has an incredible influence in Hamburg because of his earlier time here. Rafael van der Vaart can turn around the mood, he can lift the team with his mentality," Jarchow said.