Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tiny signs of recovery in Romania, but also in Austria. Once again, it was restoration of the power of traditional favorites, in the Austrian case the clubs from Vienna – Austria and Rapid. It is always questionable whether returned dominance of traditional big clubs is a sign of improvement, or a sign of stagnation, but long suffering Austrian football at least appeared stabilized: the small reorganized league was seemingly more competitive. 10 clubs, playing four times against each other provided plenty of games and generally better quality. Financial troubles were not really solved and the problem with overall quality remained: the Second League just did not seem to be a provider of stable clubs – it consisted of largely little known clubs, hardly attractive to potential sponsors. Old club, yet quite faded by now – First Vienna FC won the Second Division and the single promotion to First Division. Austria Klagenfurt was relegated – the exchange was hardly an improvement, but at least the other 9 clubs in the Bundesliga appeared stable… and somewhat eternal, considering what was coming from below. Between themselves, the ‘eternal’ possessed whatever pool of talent Austria had, a small pool indeed, but there were exciting young players around, bringing some hopes for the future. In the effort to attract public the Austrians turned even into the new fad, gaining popularity in Europe – indoor football:

Rapid (Vienna) – Austria (Klagenfurt) in January? Only indoors… it was not yet futsal, but its precursor. Stadl scores attractive goal for Klagenfurt… if only they were able to score on real pitch, they were not to be relegated, but they were not that good on grass.

On grass it was different story… struggle in the fog. Rapid (Vienna) once again on the receiving end – this time in the ‘small’ derby with Admira-Wacker (Vienna), but the unhappy goalie Antrich eventually brightened up – Rapid won at the end.
Which was good enough for third place at the final table. Swarovski-Wacker (Innsbruck) finished second and Austria (Vienna) were champions with 7 points lead, impressive 21 wins, and 77 goals scored against only 29 received – the best numbers in the league. It was the first title for Austria since 1970 and their 11th altogether.

As the team goes, it was strong enough by Austrian standards: Josef and Robert Sara, Felix Gasselich, and Hans Pirkner provided class, but three other players were more important – very likely the Uruguayan imports Julio Cesar Morales (striker) and Alberto Martinez (midfielder) really made the difference. Both came to Austria in 1973, from famous clubs – Morales from Nacional and Martinez from Penarol, and both stayed with Austria for years, thus supplying quality and stability. Morales was the most famous foreign player in Austria by far: he played for Uruguay at the 1970 World Cup and won the Intercontinental Cup with Nacional in 1971. Along with them was rapidly developing a new star – Herbert Prohaska (sitting first from right above), playing since 1972, yet only 21 years old in 1976. On his way of becoming major European star, Prohaska is a key player of the brief revival of Austrian football, which started pretty much in 1976, and the central figure of the strong Austria Vienna team of the second half of the 1970s.
Arch-rivals Rapid suffered longer than Austria – they won their last title long time ago – in 1968, and after that only one measly Cup in 1972. This season they were still not good for anything better than 3rd place in the league, but won the Cup – their 9th.

As a squad, they were less impressive than Austria – Kienast and Persidis provided contemporary quality; 30-years old August Starek supplied experience, after years playing for Bayern (Munich). The German touch was reinforced by the imports: Emil Krause and Herbert Gronen. West Germans, but… nobody ever heard of them, so it was German influence just on principle. Yet, Rapid had a real star on the making, just like Austria (Vienna) – Hans Krankl. Krankl in action. He was already detected in Europe – prolific goalscorer already. He was 23 years old and real international fame was still in the future, but he was already a star in Austria.
As a whole, Austrian clubs were not that great, but Prohaska and Krankl promised better years ahead. It was not an empty promise – Austrian football gradually got strength, a revival already started. Small steps so far, but steps nevertheless.