29. 05. 12. - 16:49
Top football teams train in Austria
By John Leo Moberg
Numerous football teams have touched down in Austria in order to prepare for next month’s Euro 2012, including both host countries – Ukraine and Poland - and Spain, the world champions of last year.
Austria has been the preferred training ground for top football teams for some time but this year the country has really come to the fore as the training ground of choice.
The 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, the Euro 2012, will be the 14th European Championship for national football teams organised by UEFA.
The final tournament will be hosted by Poland and Ukraine between 8 June and 1 July 2012. It is the first time that either nation has hosted the tournament.
The final tournament features 16 nations, the last European Championship to do so (from Euro 2016 onward, there will be 24 finalists). Qualification was contested by 51 nations between August 2010 and November 2011 to join the two host nations in the tournament.
To play a few practice matches and relax before the major competition, many of the contesting countries – nine of them – including a dozen who did not qualify, will visit Austria to train.
The country has the advantage of altitude - often seen as an aid in getting footballers fit by increasing red blood cell counts, as well as the lack of pollution, lots of home grown fresh produce in the gastronomy and a large number of top quality five star hotels for large groups of players and trainers.
The ranking of Austria as a training country is in contrast to its poor performance as a footballing nation. It did not qualify for the Euro 2012, and it is ranked 73rd in the world by FIFA. Regardless of its international ranking, however, the peaceful countryside with professional sports and medical facilities offers visiting teams a lot.
Hannes Empl, leader of the Salzburg Province Football Camp Association (SLFC), said: "The entire package is right in Austria." His association has been arranging football camps for ten years.
Spain visited Schruns-Tschagguns, a village in Vorarlberg, in 2010 – the same year when they won the World Cup in South Africa. This year they will be back, in the hope of a repeat performance.
Other teams visiting Austria regularly are Arsenal, who trained there nine times; AS Roma, who trained there eight times; and Real Madrid, who trained there five times.
Answering the question of what attracts these teams to Austria, Nikolaus Pichler of the International Football Camp Styria, said that what the teams look for is "a very good training site, combined with a good hotel, and the third and often very decisive criteria is good opponents for exhibition matches."
International Football Camp Styria (IFCS) has organised around 240 training camps for teams from 33 countries since they were founded in 1996 – this gives the location a reputation which attracts many exhibition match opponents, fulfilling the last, decisive criteria mentioned by Pichler.
Co-hosting the European championships in 2008 together with Switzerland raised Austria’s international reputation further, since they now have a top sporting infrastructure.
Ronald Gollatz, coordinator of the Best of Football agency, which was set up in the wake of Euro 2008's success, said: "It was definitely a massive boost to Austria's reputation, at least with respect to football training camps."
Empl adds: "At this point, teams come to us themselves, whereas five or six years ago, agencies had to chase after clients."
Vladimir Smicer, the Czech team manager praised Austria, explaining why his team prefers the country. The Czech team is visiting Bad Waltersdorf this year. Smicer said: "The hotel is exactly what we wanted. The installations are modern, the players will have absolute comfort and the staff has experience with football training camps."
Austrian organisers think of everything, offering teams PlayStations, meeting special dietary requirements, ensuring that halal or kosher food is available for Israeli and Arab guests and delivering water bottles to the pitch every day.
Daniela Vonbun from the Montafon valley tourism board – the location of Schruns-Tschagguns, among others – said: "We have a good idea of what they need, what we can offer them so they feel at ease."
Lately, the popular locations in Austria have suffered a few setbacks as teams are offered a lot of money to instead visit countries in Asia or the United States.
Pichler said: "They need to do tours for commercial reasons... over there, money just rains down on them so it's understandable they favour that over a training camp in Austria."
Spain, however, pays to stay in Vorarlberg when they do – a fact that is not often believed. Dieter Dubkowitsch, general manager of the Montafon valley tourist board, tells people that it really is so. He said: "Spain pay to stay here. We provide the fields and the logistics and security but the overall stay is something they have paid."
He continues: "They like the hospitality and they like the training sessions. If it brings them luck, why shouldn't they come here?"