Austrian football could be set for a new revolution.
In the South of France, as the roars echoed around the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, David Alaba stood with his head in his palms. The cheers which permeated around the stands were not for him. They served as a cacophonous orchestra amplifying his misery.
After eight years, Austria had finally returned to the pinnacle of Europe. Chasing their first ever victory in a major competition since 1990, the Austrians had high hopes for the 2016 European Championships. They had rested much of their hope on their star man, once proclaimed by Pep Guardiola as Bayern Munich’s ‘God.’
And on that warm summer evening against Hungary in Austria’s opening game, Alaba had given it his all. Playing at the heart of the midfield, the Bayern Munich man ran rings around the Hungarians. He had struck the post with a deft long range effort and came close to beating Gabor Kiraly after a quick one-two.
But his efforts were to no avail, Austria slumped to a 2-0 defeat.
As the Austrians prepared for their next match, David Alaba’s usually active social media presence stayed ominously dormant.
Austria were relying on their star man. They expected the same sort of influence as the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale had demonstrated for their respective nations. Alaba who named Viera as his role model prior to the start of the tournament, had let his nation down in the eyes of many.
Of course such expectations were lofty for the Bayern Munich star.
While a drab 0-0 draw with Portugal kept Austria with a chance of qualifying past the group-stages, the result was a veil on a disappointing performance.
Austria lacked flair and quality. Besides Alaba the team was devoid of talent and made up of an ageing squad and stars who had yet to establish themselves on the scene.
It showed against Iceland during a miserable 2-1 defeat which left Austria at the bottom of the table in a group many had expected them to qualify from.
In the four years which has ensued since that disappointment, Austria have slowly started to rebuild.
Heading into the 2020 European Championships, the Austrian squad is made up of players with impressive pedigrees. Many of the current Austrian national team players now ply their trade at top Bundesliga clubs and play regular European football. Not only that, those players are also key assets for their teams.
Take the likes of Konrad Laimer and Marcel Sabitzer for example. The pair have been two of RB Leipzig’s brightest sparks this season.
Sabitzer who was part of the 2016 squad has grown tremendously in the last four years. He has come leaps and bounds this season scoring 16 goals and making 9 assists from an attacking midfield role.
Meanwhile 23 year old Konrad Laimer’s pressing and distribution has been the key cog at the heart of RB Leipzig’s success. The 23 year old was also impressive during the EURO 2020 qualification process chipping in with a goal and five assists in seven games.
But it isn’t just the RB Leipzig stars who make up Austria’s impressive roster.
Centre-back, Martin Hinteregger has been a revelation at Eintracht Frankfurt since arriving in the summer. Not only has he been a reliable defender but he has also managed to contribute going forward with an incredible 9 goals in all competitions this season. Alongside him Aleksandar Dragovic and Maximilian Wober both competed in the Champions League this season and are solid options for the centre back positions.
At full-back Stefan Lainer is a robust marauding defender who has enjoyed a solid season for Borussia Mochengladbach. And on the other flank Red Bull Salzburg captain and veteran Andreas Ulmer has shown he has still got it at 34 with some solid displays in the Champions League.
Lining up with Konrad Laimer in midfield, Bayern Leverkusen’s Julian Baumgartlinger has been a regular for the Champions League side and is a solid option. In terms of more attacking players Xaver Schlager has struggled with injury problems at VfL Wolfsburg but he has shown glimpses of his potential and is still an exciting option.
Another less renowned choice, 20 year old Christoph Baumgartner who recently made his senior international debut and has already scored his first senior goal. The attacking midfielder is certainly one to keep an eye on. Baumgartner possess a great burst of pace and excellent awareness. Since the beginning of the new year he has managed to fight himself into the starting line-up at a struggling Hoffenheim side and has blossomed scoring 7 goals 6 assists.
Up front alongside, Marcel Sabitzer, the perpetually reliable Marko Arnautovic is still a threat and he netted six goals in eight during the country’s qualification process to the finals.
Remarkably, seven of the players listed above developed at Red Bull Salzburg’s innovative academy which has benefited greatly from elite coaching and investment.
With a plethora of new names having arrived on the scene, Austria are no longer reliant on solely David Alaba alone.
The team now has the personnel to form a cohesive unit and will certainly be one to keep an eye on at the European Championships next year. Especially after a solid qualification campaign which was only tainted by losing the first two matches
With both pace, technically gifted players and solid defenders as well as prolific goal-scorers at their disposal, Austria could be a major surprise package.
The country’s greatest moment in world football came during the late 70s and early 80s. Led by Hans Krankle Austria’s golden generation managed to reach the quarter finals in the World Cup twice in a row. Since then the nation’s performances in major tournaments has been tame to say the least. The country has only managed a single victory which came at the 1990 World Cup.
The current crop have the potential to finally break the 30 year barren run and even to emulate Hans Krankl’s legendary golden era. With Red Bull Salzburg continuing to churn at supreme Austrian talent, the nation’s squad is only expected to improve within the coming years.