The nomination of Marcel Koller as new manager of the football national team has sparked mixed reactions.
The Federal Football Association (ÖFB) and the former Swiss international agreed on a two-year contract. Koller was officially presented to the press and public in Oberwart, Burgenland, yesterday afternoon (Tues). The team currently prepare for the remaining two European Football Championship 2012 qualifiers in nearby spa resort Bad Tatzmannsdorf.
Koller’s nomination came as a surprise to sport newspapers and bloggers since most experts and fans expected Franco Foda, Andreas Herzog or Paul Gludovatz to succeed Dietmar Constantini. The former FK Austria Vienna coach resigned last month after the national team missed their final chance to qualify for the Euro2012 which will take place in Poland and Ukraine. A goalless draw against Turkey in Vienna was not enough for Austria after the squad took a 2-6 pounding by three-time World Cup winners Germany in Gelsenkirchen a few days earlier.
Foda was hotly tipped since he won the Austrian Bundesliga with Sturm Graz last season, one year after the team triumphed in the ÖFB Cup. Herzog has never worked with a professional club as a manager. However, the Austrian Under-21s boss had a successful active career in the sport. He captained German Bundesliga giants Werder Bremen and the Austrian national team. No Austrian earned more caps than the former Rapid Vienna star who performed 103 times for the national team. Gludovatz won the ÖFB Cup with SV Ried last season. He celebrated successes with various Austrian youth national teams including the Under-20s who came fourth in the World Cup in 2007.
Ex-Eintrach Frankfurt manager Christoph Daum and Swede Lars Lagerbäck were also named as possible successors of Constantini by Austrian newspapers and magazines. Rumours that Koller could take over erupted for the first time only on Monday. Many fans of the national team hoped ÖFB bosses would persuade an internationally renowned manager like former Chelsea coach Guus Hiddink or ex-Bayern Munich boss Louis van Gaal to take over the ailing national squad. However, many also admitted in their online posting and reader letters that such big names were likely to be out of reach for Austria also as far as financial aspects were concerned.
ÖFB President Leo Windtner explained yesterday: “Marcel Koller matched our profile best. He speaks German, has international experience and a convincing concept.” Windtner fell out with Constantini earlier this year. The ÖFB boss publicly called on Constantini to show more open-mindedness in his methods. The press attacked Constantini for allegedly failing to handle and accept criticism. He also infuriated writers and fans by calling tactics “overestimated”.
Constantini became national team manager in 2009. The team won seven of their 23 matches while he was in charge. Thirteen games were lost during his term which took place after Czech Karel Brückner coached the squad for less than a year. Koller will take over next month when the team are meeting Ukraine in a friendly (15 November).
ÖFB director Willibald Ruttensteiner will coach the squad against Azerbaijan this Friday (7 October) and Kazakhstan next week (11 October). Ruttensteiner made headlines by calling up Andreas Ivanschitz. The Mainz 05 midfielder was not considered by Constantini despite having captained the national team for years. Ivanschitz also played for his homeland in the Euro2008 which took place in Austria and Switzerland. Austria failed to get through the tournament’s group stage after failing to win any of their three matches. Ruttensteiner also reintroduced Roger Spry. Constantini controversially said he did not want to work with the British fitness coach when he was named manager of the national team.
Koller, 50, said he would get prepared and gather information on Austrian football in the coming weeks. The former 1. FC Köln (Cologne) manager added he planned to move to Vienna. The ex-Grashoppers Zurich ace kept tight-lipped when being asked for his tactical concepts, but explained he wanted to focus on organised attacking football in which defending was not forgotten about. “I am a person who wants to turn his ideas into reality, but I don’t chase people with whips trying to fulfil my goals,” he said.
The decision of the ÖFB board to pick Koller is under scrutiny among some commentators and fans since the Swiss did not manage a club after being sacked by VfL Bochum bosses two years ago. Others appealed to give him some time. Christian Fuchs said he appreciated the decision to opt for Koller. The national team defender played for Bochum when Koller coached the club. Fuchs went on to compete for Mainz. He joined Schalke 04 ahead of the current season. “Koller knows a lot about modern football. He has got enough international experience,” Fuchs said yesterday.
Others reacted with disappointment on the engagement of the ex-FC St. Gallen manager. Herbert Prohaska, Austria’s Footballer of the 20th Century, said he had “mixed feelings”. Prohaska – who managed the national team between 1993 and 1999 – argued: “Koller may not know a lot about Austrian football at the current stage. He could experience bigger difficulties than other possible candidates. But now that the decision is made it has to be accepted.” Prohaska was a staunch supporter of Herzog as new coach. Former national team striker Toni Polster also called for an “Austrian solution” with Herzog – who said yesterday: “I will remain in charge of the Under-21s team, but not for good.”
Kurt Jara claimed ÖFB’s profile would have matched him better than Koller. The former Hamburger SV (HSV) manager said: I had more success abroad and won more titles than Koller. (…) People keep telling me after he was presented that I would have been the better man for the job.” Karl Daxbacher, who currently coaches FK Austria Vienna, appealed: “Let the man work. He has got an excellent reputation. Prejudgements are definitely out of place.”
Austrian national team midfielder Paul Scharner – who created a stir by suggesting he manage the squad against Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan – joked yesterday he was “extremely disappointed. It seems I am not good enough.” The West Bromwich Albion star then added: “I am looking forward to getting to know him. I am convinced that the future will be bright and that ÖFB’s structures will be changed in the right ways.”
Magna Wiener Neustadt manager Peter Stöger – who competed for Austria in the World Cup in 1998 – said the domestic education courses for football managers may have to be put into question if no Austrian coach was found to be good enough for the position. Stöger also stressed that Koller “has my full support – given that he needs it.” Gludovatz announced: “All I know is that I would have matched ÖFB’s profile for a new coach.” The SV Ried manager has harshly criticised the association in various regards since he left it to take over at the Austrian Bundesliga club in 2008.