In-form Duda aiming to fire Hertha Berlin into Europe
Berlin may be Germany's biggest city, but the football fans there haven't had much to cheer in the past decade. Hertha Berlin, the city's sole Bundesliga representative, has been relegated twice in the last 8 seasons. They have, however, managed a 7th and 6th place in the last two campaigns, proving that there may be light at the end of the tunnel after all.
At the heart of Hertha's Lazarus act is 23-year-old Slovakian Ondrej Duda. Nicknamed ‘Dudinho' and armed with the number ten shirt, he has already managed three goals in three appearances for Die Blau-Weiß. Two strikes came in a man-of-the-match performance against Schalke. The second was a beautiful free kick placed that discouraged Schalke's keeper, Ralf Fährmann, against attempting to dive for the ball.
Dudinho was purchased for just €4.2 million from Legia Warszawa in 2016. A lot was expected of the youngster as he was handed the number ten jersey. Things did not go to plan. He missed 65 games due to being injured for 271 days, scoring just once in 26 matches before the start of this season. His confidence was low and it took the coaches intervention to help him focus. Pal Dardai talked to his family and advisors and urged him to attend German language courses. This has helped him really settle in Berlin, and the club is reaping the rewards on the pitch.
Dardai coached the Hertha Berlin youth team between 2012 and 2015. In September 2014, He was appointed interim Manager of the Hungary national team. He refused to keep the position on a permanent basis choosing to return to Hertha. Jos Luhukay was the manager at that time was going through a bad patch which saw Hertha at 17th on the table. Dardai was offered the job and he steadied the ship, leading Die Blau-Weiß to a 15th place finish, avoiding relegation via goal difference.
The Hungarian manager obviously rates Duda and knows which buttons to push to unlock his potential. Hertha has used two different formations this season: 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1. Duda has however always been the most advanced midfielder. Dardai has tasked him to combine with the likes of Salomon Kalou and Liverpool loanee Marko Grujic to both provide ammunition for striker Vedad Ibisevic and attempt to get on the score sheet.
Despite his shirt number and playing position, Duda is not your typical number ten. Small, nimble and fast playmakers who can thread passes through a needle are the current trend. Duda, however, stands at 6 meters tall and has passing listed as one of his two listed weaknesses at WhoScored. Aerial duels are ironically the other. He manages just one key pass per 90 to top up his three defensive actions per match. Duda overcomes his weaknesses by bringing speed and his undeniable high work-rate in every match, something that has earned him the respect of his peers. He has managed a respectable 25 caps for Slovakia at the ripe age of 23. This is despite the fact that the experienced likes of Napoli's Marek Hamsik and Juraj Kucka are above him in the pecking order.
Hertha Berlin has seven points and is currently fifth in the Bundesliga standings. Only Bayern Munich have the maximum nine points after three matches played. The teams in between above Hertha only via goal difference.it may be too early to call which way Hertha's season will go, but their chances of making it to Europe are enhanced if Duda can stay fit. Dardai, as well as the whole of Berlin, will be praying that that remains the case.