Recent Branches from the Austrian Coaching School Tree

There are countries who have a long and successful tradition in producing bright football head coaches. These countries are essentially coaching schools, sending managers overseas. For example, there’s a literal Italian coaching school based in Coverciano (near Firenze), which is one’s the game’s best ever, where Italian managers are educated. This school produced coaches such as China’s national team manager and former World Champion Marcello Lippi and Claudio Ranieri, whose CV includes the Leicester City miracle.

Additionally, there’s a Scottish coaching farm that includes some of the game’s finest ever such as Jock Stein, Matt Busby, and Alex Ferguson, but have also seen José Mourinho and André Villas-Boas as famous SFA alums. Another Portuguese gaffer, Rangers Glasgow’s boss Pedro Caixhina, also got his pro-licence badge in Scotland. Then there’s Dutch football with its long history of producing renowned managers who followed in Johan Cruyff’s steps: Louis Van Gaal, Guus Hiddink, Martin Jol, René Meulenstee, Phillip Cocu, and Peter Bosz. Moreover, there’s a Portuguese coaching academy, which has produced good, young managers in recent years, such as Nuno Espirito Santo, Leonardo Jardim, Paulo Sousa, Marco Silva, and Paulo Fonseca.

However, there’s another, lesser known school of managers, who has recently provided us with some good footballing minds, branching off a coaching tree that started with the 1930s Wunderteam’s boss Hugo Meisl, then Ernst Happel.

This country is Austria, whose coaching influence has recently permeated the Bundesliga.

In fact, getting their badges in both German and Austrian systems, Austrian managers are well-qualified and highly-motivated candidates, equipped with both skills and ideas. Some of these graduates have already cut their teeth in managerial roles in Austria before enjoying successful stints in Germany, such as Peter Stöger and Ralph Hasenhuttl, who both are Austrian.

Peter Stöger

Peter Stöger built a name for himself coaching Austria Wien in 2012-13, where he built a squad lined up in a 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 shape with wingers usually playing inverted. When in attack, the Violets under Stöger took advantage of the difficulty posed by Austrian clubs showed in their excessive use of pressing. In fact, their pressing generally leaves open spaces to get the ball through behind the first pressing line. In order to gain numerical superiority at the back against a two-forwards pressing systems, Austria Wien’s centre-backs usually spread wide with Autralian midfielder James Holland dropping in between them. In the meantime, the outside defenders move forwards to push the opposing flankers back.

When defending, Austria Wien played extremely well, defending with the forwards pressing high up the pitch and with the whole team trying to follow the first pressing line accordingly. The whole team always tried to be positioned high up the pitch. On the other side, Stöger’s men were relaxed under pressure, which was mainly due to the forward movements that made them positioned in open spaces as well between the half-spaces.  From there, they acted as target points to which send the ball in order to avoid the pressure and create favorable starting positions for a counter attack. So, a quick counter-attack opportunity was created in a very short time.

In Köln, Stöger tried to reply his principles but working out from different formations. No coach changed his formation so constantly like Stöger as he utilized 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 5-3-2…the Viennese coach showed his flexibility still building good defensive sides as the distances between players are right and Cologne usually maintain a good compactness.

Ralph Hasenhuttl

The fact that RB Leipzig became a recognized power in the Bundesliga isn’t just due to Red Bull co-owner Dietrich Mateschitz’s wealth. Indeed, Roten Bullen are not a big spending side collecting generous paychecks. Instead, RB Leipzig’s fortunes are to be attributed more to their coaching philosophy and football culture.

Interestingly, since former Schalke and Hoffenheim coach Ralf Rangnick took charge of Leipzig, leading them into German football top tier, RB Leipzig successfully built a tactical approach based on a 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 shape with two moving inside wingers linking the midfield and forwards. Coupled with a strategy featuring a large dose of Gegenpressing, Ragnick provided RB Leipzig with a tactical foundation from which Hasenhüttl started to build his version of this Bundesliga side. The former Austria international previously made a name for himself molding FC Ingolstadt into a kind of gegenpressing machine.

When at Leipzig, Hasenhüttl tried to repeat a similar model of play starting to press rivals high up the field on their build-up. That said, Leipzig don’t rush in pressing, starting to apply a tough pressure when the ball is on determinate opponent’s feet. Hasenhüttl’s side becomes a balanced formation when out of possession, with Leipzig’s players trying to stay compact in order to close ball carrier’s passing lanes.

When the ball is moved out wide, Liepzig start to apply pressure with the ball-close players trying to shut down opponent’s ball circulation while also they close the centre of the field. The main goal over there is outnumbering the opponent close to the ball occupying the areas where the ball could go through. In the meantime, the weak side centre-midfielder and wingers have to shuffle near to the strong side enabling the rivals to move the ball into the lines or towards the weak side. Leipzig do it although it means to overload the strong side creating voids into the centre and the ball-far half-space.

When in possession, Leipzig get the ball slowly out from the back through a calm buildup, trying to outnumber opponent’s first line of pressure. Then, they move the ball faster in advanced zones.

Adi Hutter

After the success that Stöger, and Hasenhuttl enjoyed in the last seasons, it would be smart to evaluate Austrian managers who could be the next in line to coach in the Bundesliga. The name at top of this Austrian list is Adi Hutter, currently in charge of Young Boys. A former Red Bull Salzburg coach, Hutter joined Young Boys in 2015 and quickly started to put his tactical stamp at Swiss Super League side.

The base structure Hutter likes to use with Young Boys resembles the 4-4-2/4-4-2-2 formations utilized by the German coach Roger Schmidt at Red Bull Salzburg. The principles also are the same as the Austrian coach favors a high pressing and high tempo system based on fast offensive transitions. On the offensive phase, the centre-backs and the central midfielders are charged to building up while the full-backs push up top becoming wing-backs. Wide midfielders usually cut inside positioning themselves into the half-spaces.

The forwards up top use movements to manipulate rivals’ defensive shape and to create passing lanes to move the ball through. Offensively, Young Boys are not a possession side as Hutter favor vertical passes to quickly exploit the spaces up front.  The Swiss side is also able to overload the strong side so as to move the attack over there, or to move the ball towards the weak side to create a favorable isolated 1 vs 1. As most of Austrian coached sides, Young Boys are a gegenpressing team, who also like to press opponents high up the pitch.

Oliver Glasner

A former assistant coach at Red Bull Salzburg, where he was responsible for team’s set-pieces, LASK Linz’s coach Oliver Glasner is also a disciple of Roger Schmidt also Ragnick. But, unlike his mentors, Glasner prefers a three-men at the back structure. With the ball at their feet, LASK Linz start a smooth buildup in the way to progress the ball out from the back. The backline relies on a central midfielder to move the ball up with the wing-backs providing width on the flanks. The central players help Glasner’s side to maintain a compact core structure while the out wide forwards play into the half-spaces in the attacking phase, morphing a kind of 3-4-2-1.

When out of possession, Glasner ask his forward to contribute as LASK Linz favor a 5-4-1 shape. This compact structure made difficult for the rivals to get ball through the lines. LASK Linz’s defensive unit was built by Glasner around Gernot Trauner with which the coach worked at Ried where the defender was utilized in the ‘Beckenbauer’ role that Trauner seems to have taken also at LASK under Glasner.

Damir Canadi

Another rising Austrian gaffer is Damir Canadi. Working alongside sporting director Georg Zellhofer, the 47-year old coach took the job as SC Rheindorf Altach’s manager in 2013 and immediately led them to the top flight of Austrian football.

Canadi made a name for himself coaching Altach. He showed to be very flexible, regularly changing his game plans according to the opponents, until he decided to play with three centre-backs and two wing-backs. In doing it, Canadi produced results taking the best out of the unknown bunch of players at his disposal. The Team flourished so much under Canadi that the coach was brought on by Rapid Wien who favored him over top choices Andreas Herzog and Didi Kuhbauer. At Rapid, however, it all fell apart due to Canadi’s man-management, rather than his tactical nous. The manager also tried to install the 3-man defense which worked out at Altach, but there was a resistance for this tactics within the club, the players and the fans.

After Rapid, Canadi moved to Greece where he’s currently coaching Atromitos.

Werner Grabherr

Under Canadi, flourished an assistant coach and video analyst, Werner Grabherr, who Altach turned to replace their former manager. With his former boss gone, the 31-year old Grabherr took over the job on temporary basis, becoming the youngest-ever manager in Austria. Grabherr, who also served Altach as club’s marketing director, was credited for many of Canadi’s tactical ideas. Implementing a well-organised 3-5-2 formation, the young Grabherr proved his coaching acumen by getting the best out of his roster and taking 10 points out from the first five matches he coached. Unfortunately, Grabherr didn’t hold a UEFA Pro license, and couldn’t be appointed on permanent basis, so he was forced to leave the job to former St. Pölten boss Martin Scherb, who led Altach for the second half of last campaign. Surely, Grabherr was a head coach for a short period, so some argue that is hard to know if he is really a good manager or if he has “just” extended Canadi’s ideas. He hasn’t proven himself in a summer or winter break, where you can build a team according to your proper tactical ideas.

But Grabherr is a clever guy, behind the scenes, he’s been developing his football knowledge. This humble coach could get another chance sooner or later (once he will get his UEFA Pro badge) so he deserves a spot into the list of the next potential top Austrian managers.

Dominik Thalhammers

Another name to remember is Dominik Thalhammers. The coach of the Austrian Women’s National team revolutionized the implementation of sports psychology into the daily work on the pitch and there’s a chance that he might take over a men’s team at some point in the future.

Zoran Barisic

Finally, there’s Zoran Barisic, the current coach of Turkish Süper Lig side Karabükspor. Former Tirol Innsbruck midfielder is excellent in developing young players and he was also able to be the runner up with Rapid in Austria three times in a row (behind Salzburg of course). From a tactical point of view, Barisic is a possession-oriented coach. He is a smart coach, but he rarely changing style of play or formation within a game. Rapid’s devastating 0-6 & 0-4 losses to Valencia in Europa League’s knockout stages in 2016 sealed his fate with the Greens, but after all, Rapid might be regretting that they sacked him.

All the aforementioned managers are bright and prepared, so they could deserve a job in one of Germany’s top divisions. With Bundesliga owners ready to fire managers quickly, German sporting directors could start looking just beyond the southern border to hire potential top coaches.

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