(Editor’s note: Austrian football has a long history of successful and brilliant football managers, including one’s the game’s best ever, the famed Hugo Meisl, who coaches Austria’s famed Wunderteam in the 1930s – Austria’s footballing peak. This side included the likes of Matthias Sindelar, der Papierene.)
The countries of Austria and Germany speak the same language. Despite this similarity, the majority of the managers in the Bundesliga are German. This state of affairs has always been the case, and this season only 6 of the 18 current managers are from abroad. This homogeneity is a stark contrast from other leagues such as the Premier League, which is filled with managers from Spain, France, and the Netherlands.
But if you look closely at the foreign managers in the Bundesliga, two of them are Austrian: Peter Stöger and Ralph Hasenhuttl, who, besides both being Austrian, are leading their clubs to a reasonable levels of success right now. Since these two managers are doing such a fine job, it may be wise for more Bundesliga clubs to consider hiring managers from their neighbors to the south.
The Current Crop
As mentioned previously, Stöger of FC Köln, and Hasenhuttl of FC Ingolstadt have both had success with their clubs this season and in past seasons.
First, let’s start with Köln’s Austrian skipper Stöger, who’s gotten a lot of recognition from fans of the Bundesliga, and from his club as well. He signed a contract until 2020 because of how good he’s been for Köln, as their chairman wanted him to become an “Arsene Wenger type figure” for them.
All of this came about because of his success with Köln, and the state that the club was in when he arrived. When he came to Köln, they needed stability and someone to take hold of the Billy Goats. After all, they had 6 managers from July of 2009, to May of 2013, and they were mingling in the 2. Bundesliga as well. Ever since his hiring it’s all been uphill for Köln, who have achieved promotion and won the 2. Bundesliga with Stöger, and then survived the rigors of the Bundesliga, and now look primed for a top 10 finish.
The rapid improvement of The Billy Goats has to be attributed to their Austrian mastermind, who seems to top himself over and over again. Going from the second division to beating Borussia Dortmund is incredible, and a lot of Köln’s success can be attributed to Stöger’s ability to develop players and make shrewd moves on the transfer market to go with his tactical abilities.
Managers like this are becoming rare in today’s Bundesliga, where teams hire and fire managers very often. Stuttgart, Hoffenheim, Hannover, and Gladbach have had new managers this season. These clubs show that the Bundesliga is in need of managers like Stöger, who happens to hail from Austria.
Köln’s skipper isn’t the only Austrian defying expectations in the Bundesliga this season. As mentioned previously, Ralph Hasenhuttl of Ingolstadt is the other Austrian manager in the Bundesliga.
Even though his side’s success hasn’t been as documented as Köln’s, Die Schanzer might be the league’s best story so far. Similarly to Stöger, Hasenhuttl has used defensive tactics after coming to the Bundesliga, and they’ve worked masterfully. Ingolstadt sit at 9th in the table, one spot above Köln, despite only scoring 17 goals so far. Not to mention they only spent 3.7 million euros on summer transfers (according to transfermarkt), and even though they’ve made some buys in January, Hasenhuttl basically has a side filled with 2. Bundesliga stars in the top half of the Bundesliga.
But before he was doing the seemingly impossible this season, he was saving Ingolstadt from a crisis similar to Köln’s. When the Austrian took over Ingolstadt in October of 2013, they were at the bottom of the 2. Bundesliga, and they had just fired their manager whom they hired in June of 2013. Die Schanzer were in deep trouble, and the club was in a state of disarray with an uncertain future, just like Köln.
Those days are long forgotten, as Ingolstadt captured the 2. Bundesliga title last season, the year after the Billy Goats. Their rise has been almost as remarkable as Darmstadt, and what their Austrian skipper is doing with a lot of 2. Bundesliga players is remarkable to say the least. For a club that has risen like Die Schanzer have, anything is possible with the Austrian at the helm.
While Stöger and Hasenhuttl will continue to lead their clubs to success, they aren’t the only ones with Austrian connections who is having success in the Bundesliga. An example of this is none other than Leverkusen manager Roger Schmidt.
Schmidt was manager of one of the infamous Red Bull clubs, RB Salzburg in the Austrian Bundesliga. As their manager, he won the league title, league cup, and players such as Kevin Kampl, Andre Ramalho and Marcel Sabitzer rose to prominence under his guidance.
His tactics were a sight to behold in Austria, with his pressing game combined with a lot of shooting worked wonders for Salzburg. If he didn’t manage in their Bundesliga, who knows if he would’ve gotten a chance in Germany. With his relatively young age, and fairly unique system, many clubs wouldn’t have gambled on Schmidt with the sense of urgency in the Bundesliga these days. But after beating Bayern 3-0 in a friendly, the German Bundesliga executives knew he was good enough, and Leverkusen hired him the following summer.
Skippers like Schmidt are why the Bundesliga should look at Austrian managers more often, since they have a track record of being very successful in this day and age. With his success, there will be Bundesliga executives looking at Austria, because there are quite a number of options at their disposal.
Many Austrian Options Right Now
After the success that Stöger, Hasenhuttl and Schmidt have had in the last two seasons, it’s only fair to evaluate the managers in Austria that could come to Germany next season.
The first candidate is a man who some Bundesliga fans might be familiar with in Thorsten Fink. He might be the most likely to come to Germany next season, after all, he is German, which makes the Bundesliga very appealing, and he’s only 48 despite his previous Bundesliga experience. He’s a former Bayern midfielder, and after more than 150 games with the club, he knows what it takes in the Bundesliga. He also managed Hamburg from 2011 to 2013, and he lead HSV a 7th place finish during his reign as manager.
Right now, Fink manages Austria Wien who are one of Austria’s best clubs, as they currently sit third in the Austrian Bundesliga. After negotiating with Hannover this summer, we should expect to see Fink back in Germany once again.
Another familiar face to some Bundesliga fans who is one of Austria’s best skippers is former Leverkusen midfielder Franco Foda, who currently manages the 4th place side Sk Sturm Graz, whom he has managed on three separate occasions.
After winning the Austrian Bundesliga with them in the 2010-11 season, he was given the job at 1.FC Kaiserslautern who had just been relegated. Despite leading them to a third place finish, Foda was sacked after failing to reach promotion in his first season.
Since then Foda’s returned to Sturm Graz, and he’s had success there once again. His managerial experience in Germany and Austria makes him a very compelling candidate for Bundesliga clubs (1st or 2nd tier) this summer.
The final Austrian manager who will generate buzz this summer might be the most likely to get a job, and his name is Zoran Barisic. Most fans don’t know who he is, which makes perfect sense. Unlike the other two managers Foda and Fink, he is Austrian, and never played in the frst or second tiers of German football.
This fact makes him very similar to the other Austrians Stöger and Hasenhuttl, and the club he manages is 2nd in the league on goal difference, that club is Rapid Wien. The fact that any club is close to Salzburg in Austria is very surprising, and it not only shows the void left by Schmidt, but also how good of a job Barisic is doing this season.
At only 45 years old, he has done a great job at Rapid after taking over as permanent manager in 2013. With a plus 85 goal differential since getting the job, he has found a way to dominate Austrian football in a short period of time. Without RB Salzburg spending much more than anyone else, Rapid would be running away with the league. If I was a Bundesliga club looking for a young manager who brings stability and success, Barisic would be an ideal choice.
The success of managers affiliated with Austria in Stöger, Hasenhuttl and Schmidt, along with the very good managers in Austria right now makes their market very compelling, and something that the Bundesliga should exploit as much as possible.
Fink, Foda and Barisic are all very bright managers, with a track record that makes them worthy of a job in either of Germany’s top two divisions. After all, the Bundesliga hires and fires managers rapidly, and most of the managers in the league are Germany.
If people start looking towards Austria for managers, not just players to buy from or give to, the Bundesliga as a whole could improve tremendously. And with the money in England, Germany needs to do as much as they can to keep up.
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