Football Features

Familiar footballers you might not know once played for Hoffenheim, from Alaba to Firmino

By Steve Jennings

Published: 15:30, 21 May 2023

Without winning much silverware of their own, 1899 Hoffenheim have seen a number of high-profile players pass through their ranks and go on to achieve greater things elsewhere.

Indeed, the Rhein-Neckar-Arena has been home to some memorable footballers over the years. The same is true of plenty of journeymen, too, and players who failed to live up to their billing.

Here are 13 players it’s easy to forget once played for Hoffenheim.

1. David Alaba

Hoffenheim period: 2011
Current club: Real Madrid
Record transfer: £0 (to Bayern Munich and Real Madrid)

Bayern have a lot to thank Hoffenheim for. In January 2011, David Alaba got his first taste of regular Bundesliga football on loan at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena.

The left-back scored two goals in 17 appearances for Hoffenheim during the second half of the 2010/11 campaign, readying himself for a return to Bayern, where he has won ten Bundesliga titles, six German Cups and two Champions Leagues before leaving for Real Madrid as a free agent. He has also been named Austrian Footballer of the Year nine times.

Key stat: A misplaced pass by Alaba nine seconds into a 2015/16 league game against Hoffenheim resulted in the quickest-ever Bundesliga goal, scored by Kevin Volland.

2. Demba Ba

Hoffenheim period: 2007-2011
Current club: Retired
Record transfer: £11.7m (to Shanghai Shenhua)

In a career of highs and lows, Demba Ba has been among the goals at just about every club he’s played for, although his most famous must be capitalising on ‘that’ slip by Steven Gerrard in 2014. He scored a total of 40 goals in 103 appearances for Hoffenheim before leaving for England, where he represented West Ham United, Newcastle United and Chelsea.

Since then, the striker has continued finding the net in Turkey and China, winning his first major honour in the form of the 2016/17 Super Lig with Besiktas, and he achieved that same feat with Istanbul Basaksehir.

3. Ryan Babel

Hoffenheim period: 2011-2012
Current club: Eyüpspor
Record transfer: £11.5m (to Liverpool)

Ryan Babel seemed to disappear after leaving Liverpool. Perhaps that’s because he failed to make an impact during his first season away from Anfield, scoring just one goal in 16 appearances for Hoffenheim. A better second season resulted in a move back to Ajax.

The Dutchman resurfaced in 2017/18, scoring two goals in six Champions League appearances for Besiktas.

Babel’s good form in Turkey saw him become the unlikely go-to man in Ronald Koeman’s Netherlands side. He’d leave Besiktas for Galatasaray and returned to Ajax on loan before returning. He’s since relocated to Eyüpspor.

4. Roberto Firmino

Hoffenheim period: 2011-2015
Current club: Liverpool
Record transfer: £29m (to Liverpool)

Many of you may remember Roberto Firmino made his breakthrough at Hoffenheim, but he has become such an integral part of Liverpool’s set-up under Jurgen Klopp it’s easy to forget he made quite the impression at his former club, playing 153 times across all competitions in Germany.

Now widely considered one of the best forwards in the game, Firmino has gone from a promising attacking midfielder at Hoffenheim to a super-proficient link man for Liverpool, combining brilliantly with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in a fearsome front three.

His time at Anfield, though, will be coming to a close as Firmino seeks pastures new in the summer of 2023.

Key stat: All but one of Firmino’s nine Premier League goals in the 2019/20 season came away from home.

5. Heurelho Gomes

Hoffenheim period: 2013
Current club: Retired
Record transfer: £6.75m (to Tottenham Hotspur)

After falling out of favour due to a string of big mistakes between the sticks for Tottenham, Heurelho Gomes was shipped out on loan to Hoffenheim, making nine appearances in perhaps the most forgettable spell of his career.

He joined Watford in 2014, but played deputy to first-choice goalkeeper Ben Foster the past two seasons and left in the summer following the club’s relegation from the Premier League, before hanging up his gloves. In an interview with ESPN Brasil he stated that he didn’t want to play for another club after The Hornets.

6. Luiz Gustavo

Hoffenheim period: 2008-2011
Current club: Al Nassr
Record transfer: £13.5m (to Bayern Munich)

Luiz Gustavo didn’t really become a well-known name until he arrived at Bayern Munich, where he made 100 appearances and was part of the 2012/13 treble-winning side. After struggling to become a regular at the Allianz Arena, he left for Wolfsburg and now plays for Fenerbahce in Turkey.

What often goes forgotten, though, is that the midfielder made 109 appearances for Hoffenheim before joining Bayern. He has been a useful player for Brazil over the years, too, playing 41 times for his country.

7. Joselu

Hoffenheim period: 2012-2014
Current club: Espanyol
Record transfer: £5.75m (to Stoke City)

Joselu has been around a bit. The Spaniard seems settled at Alaves now, but he played for five different clubs between 2012 and 2017 after leaving Real Madrid (twice in England with Stoke City and Newcastle United). The first of those clubs was Hoffenheim, where he scored five goals in 25 games across all competitions.

8. Kevin Kuranyi

Hoffenheim period: 2015-2016
Current club: Retired
Record transfer: £6.2m (to Schalke 04)

At the top of his game, Kevin Kuranyi was a regular for the German national team as a result of his fine form for Stuttgart and Schalke 04. He then enjoyed a second wind in Russia with Dinamo Moscow, scoring 55 goals in 142 appearances.

Those outside of Germany may not even know that Kuranyi returned to the Bundesliga for one final season in 2015/16 (this is forgivable though as he didn’t score a single goal).

Key stat: Kuranyi scored 19 goals in 52 appearances for Germany.

9. Josip Simunic

Hoffenheim period: 2009-2011
Current club: Retired
Record transfer: £5.5m (to Hoffenheim)

You might be most familiar with the image of Josip Simunic in the red and white of the Croatia national team, for whom he is the third-most capped player in history with 105 appearances.

Hertha Berlin, where he made 275 appearances, gave Simunic his most memorable club years, but he also played for Hoffenheim before returning to Croatia with Dinamo Zagreb.

10. Eduardo Vargas

Hoffenheim period: 2015-2017
Current club: Atlético Mineiro
Record transfer: £5m (to Hoffenheim and Tigres UANL)

Between 2013 and 2016, Eduardo Vargas scored 30 goals in 51 appearances for the Chile national team, which makes it all the more baffling that the striker has failed to find the net more than 11 times in a single league season since leaving Universidad de Chile in 2012.

One of his most disappointing goal returns came at Hoffenheim, where he scored only twice in 29 appearances.

Key stat: Between 2012 and 2017, Vargas played in six different countries: Italy, Brazil, Spain, England, Germany and Mexico.

11. Anthony Modeste

Hoffenheim period: 2013-2015
Current club: Borussia Dortmund
Record transfer: £25.8m (to Tianjin Quanjian)

Anthony Modeste enjoyed a decent run of form at Hoffenheim with 23 goals in 62 games, but he is far more remembered at Koln, who he joined from Hoffenheim in 2015. The striker scored 45 times in 73 matches for Koln, earning himself a big-money move to China.

He is now at Borussia Dortmund having joined in 2022.

12. Luis Advíncula

Hoffenheim period: 2013-2015
Current club: Boca Juniors
Record transfer: £720k (to Hoffenheim)

Luis Advíncula made just two Bundesliga appearances Hoffenheim, spending most of his time in Germany away on loan. It seems Hoffenheim weren’t able to make the most of the full-back’s ridiculous pace; according to AS, Advíncula recorded a top speed of 36.15 km/h while playing for Lobos BUAP against Chivas in Mexico.

13. Danny Williams

Hoffenheim period: 2011-2013
Current club: Free agent
Record transfer: £1.6m (to Reading)

Danny Williams struggled for regular minutes after joining then-Premier League outfit Huddersfield from Reading at the beginning of the 2017/18 campaign. The German-born USA international played 48 times for Hoffenheim before his move to Reading in 2013, and his interesting career path continued when he left Huddersfield for Cypriot side Pafos.