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David Alaba in full flight for Bayern Munich

Back to the 30s
Any nation capable of beating Germany 6-0 and 5-0, Italy 2-1, Belgium 6-1, France 4-0 and Hungary 8-2 is clearly one of the very best teams in the world.

Between 1931-33 these results did occur.  The team that did the destroying was called the wunderteam.  Any guesses on who the nation was?

A clue, they are currently ranked in the FIFA top 10.

The answer may surprise.  It is Austria.

In the early 1930s Austria was the team to beat.  Prior to the infamous Anschluss with Germany in 1935, it was the global epicentre for technical footballers and the laboratory for tactical innovation.

A brief history
Unfortunately for Austria, the 30s was a high water mark in its footballing history.  Glorious prior to World War II, it had a resurgence in quality during the 1950s and again (briefly) in the 1970s but has been very much a secondary footballing power in recent years.

It has not made a FIFA World Cup since 1998 and has failed to qualify for the last five major championships following automatic qualification as co-host for the European Championship in 2008.

All that changed late 2015 when Austria topped its group in qualifying for the European Championships in France overcoming favourites Russia and Sweden along the way.

The Manager
Austria dropped just one game in getting through a tough group with much praise being directed to Swiss-born manager Marcel Koller.

A member of the Swiss national team that qualified for the World Cup and European Championships in the 1990s, Koller faced heavy criticism from former players and fans when he started the role.

However, he has been able to turn around the naysayers with results on field an outcome of his positive approach.

Koller’s Philosophy
Koller has been fortunate to be able to pick a starting XI that is based entirely outside Austria.  The best player is the versatile Bayern Munich left back David Alaba.  Valued at 45m euro by transfermakt.com, Alaba represents the success of an improved Austrian youth development programme started a decade ago.

But Koller has created a team that is greater than the sum of its many parts – the sign of an excellent coach.

Playing a fluent technical style with plenty of movement off the ball augmented with intensity in and out of possession has become the feature of the Austrian national team.

The technical capability of each player has been the deciding factor by Koller when selecting his squad rather than how often a player has been starting for his club.

“For me the most important thing is that I have to be convinced about the football qualities that a player has.”

Attitude is also of premium importance.

“…when you work together and when you want to have success, its important not to be satisfied too easily and not to lean back.

It took some time until we reached 100% [effort] and it’s important to demand it, to remind players of that.”

This combination of technique and attitude is vital for success at any age.

The performance of Austria is testament that with sound youth development and a high performance programme that can bring the best out of its player anything is possible.

For Top Flight Football Academy our focus is the youth development aspect – providing a platform for young New Zealanders so that they have a platform to go further in the game if they choose.

Austria’s chances
Austria will not be regarded as one of the true contenders for the tournament.

But in a group featuring Portugal, Iceland and Hungary it will fancy its chances of getting into the knockout stage and sending a shockwave or two through the tournament.

Austria’s first match is against Hungary on 15 June NZT.  Opponents will do well not to underestimate this Austrian team or they may face a similar nasty surprise as suffered by some of the big European nations back in the 1930s.


Sources for this article:

The Blizzard Football Quarterly, Issue 19

  • “Restoring the Glory” by Vladimir Novak

“The Burden of History” by Peter Linden

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