Austria Rapid decline in Vienna
When Rapid Vienna began the season with a 5-0 victory over SV Ried, their fans thought it might be the start of a title-winning campaign to celebrate the completion of their new stadium.
Little did they know that, by the end of the season, that result would have more relevance in the fight against relegation than at the top of the table.
Instead of ending their nine-year wait for a league title, Rapid employed three coaches, fired their sporting director and at one point endured a club record nine-match winless run as they limped home in fifth place.
They did, however, reach the Austrian Cup Final, where they produced one of their best performances of the season, only to lose to a late goal against double winners Red Bull Salzburg.
The new Allianz Stadion, built on the site of the old Gerhard Hanappi but rotated 90 degrees compared to its predecessor, was supposed to give fresh impulse to a team that had given RB Salzburg a run for their money the previous season.
But the campaign began badly. Zoran Barisic was replaced by German coach Mike Buskens and then, when the fans discovered that 19-year-old striker Maximilian Entrup, one of seven new signings, was previously a member of an Austria Vienna fan club, he was greeted on his debut with a banner that read: “The Green Hell will make your life an inferno.”
Despite a shock defeat to Altach, things still looked promising early on, but a 4-1 win at Austria Vienna and a 4-2 aggregate victory over Trencin to reach the Europa League group stage was about as good as it got.
In October they suffered a first loss at the new stadium, against Austria Vienna, and defeat in their next home game, against Wolfsberger, led to sporting director Andreas Muller and coach Buskens being shown the door.
Damir Canadi, unceremoniously poached from Altach, took charge of the team but the move backfired and Rapid went on a nine-match winless run that culminated in a dreadful 3-0 defeat at bottom-of-the-table Ried.
On the way back to Vienna the team bus stopped at a motorway service station for a “conversation” with a group of ultras, which the club insisted had been pre-arranged. Canadi was fired the following day and replaced by his assistant, Goran Djuricin.
Hans Krankl, the club’s most famous former player and ex-coach, weighed in on the motorway incident, saying: “If I were the trainer, the bus would have kept driving.”
On the field, however, things began to calm down. Rapid finally ended their winless spell with a 3-0 victory over Altach in Goricin’s first match, and although they lost their next two games, to Austria Vienna and Admira Wacker, a run of four wins in their last five games lifted them away from relegation.
However, a dreadfully disappointing fifth-place finish in the league, coupled with defeat in the Cup Final, means that, for the first time in six seasons, Rapid will miss out on European football.
Struggle...Rapid’s Louis Schaub (left) in action against SV Ried
Dreadful run... Damir Canadi