Salzburg fail in Europe again
Austrian media branded it “La Decima”, while Germany’s Kicker compared the team to Sisyphus, who in Greek mythology was forced to push a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back and hit him – an action he repeated for eternity.
For the 10th time in a row – and all since Red Bull became involved in the club in one guise or another – Salzburg were knocked out of the Champions League in the qualifying stage.
This time elimination came in the third round against Rijeka, who last season ended Dinamo Zagreb’s run of 11 successive Croatian league titles.
After being held 1-1 at home in the first leg, Salzburg could only manage a goalless draw in the return and went out on away goals – to the endless amusement of the rest of Austria. Salzburg had two goals disallowed for offside: the first correctly, the second wrongly as the referee failed to notice a Rijeka defender on the goal line who was clearly playing Reinhold Yabo onside when he put the ball in the net. But they won little sympathy in a country where supporters loathe the way in which Salzburg have used Red Bull’s financial muscle to win eight titles in the last 11 seasons.
Red Bull’s disdain for tradition also alienated the public, in particular the unceremonious ditching of old Austria Salzburg’s purple strip for Red Bull’s corporate red and white. “I can’t play with a purple bull if the brand is called Red Bull,” said owner Dietrich Mateschitz at the time.
Red Bull did offer a compromise for the fans: the keeper would wear purple socks for away games. It seemed deliberately provocative and a large number of fans deserted and formed a breakaway club, who are now in the third tier.
There has been a bit of everything among those 10 failures, ranging from the abject humiliation of an away-goal loss to Luxemburg’s Dudelange in 2012 to last year’s agony against Dinamo Zagreb when they were three minutes away from qualifying.
Then there was the apparent injustice of 2013, when they were eliminated by Fenerbahce, who had been banned from European competition for two seasons over a domestic match-fixing scandal but were re-admitted pending an appeal. Fener won 3-1 on aggregate but their appeal to be admitted was rejected a month later.
But 2014 was probably the most disappointing – the year when it seemed impossible not to qualify.
Having wrapped up the domestic title the previous season with eight games to spare, scoring 110 goals and finishing the 36-match campaign with a goal difference of plus 75, their play-off tie against Malmo was seemingly straightforward, given that no Swedish team had reached the group stage for 14 years. Salzburg led 2-0 in the home leg and were in total control. They also hit the post three times and let a host of other chances go begging before a defensive mix-up allowed Malmo to sneak an away goal in the last minute.
Suddenly it all began to go wrong. Senegalese winger Sadio Mane was dropped from the return leg in a dispute over a transfer, coach Adi Hutter had to reshuffle his defence and his players could not cope with the pressure and Malmo won the return 3-0.
Just for good measure, they also eliminated Salzburg the following year, overturning a two-goal deficit from the first leg to win 3-2.
Other recent failures have come against Valencia, Shakhtar Donetsk and Israel’s Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv.
For all their domestic success, Salzburg have been remarkably unstable. Eleven coaches have been employed in the Red Bull era: Kurt Jara, Giovanni Trapatonni, Co Adriaanse, Huub Stevens, Ricardo Moniz, Roger Schmidt, Adi Hutter, Peter Zeidler, Thomas Letsch, Oscar Garcia and now Marco Rose, who took over when Garcia accepted an offer from St Etienne. Only Schmidt lasted two full seasons.
Philosophies have switched between developing young Austria talent, signing experienced Austrian players, signing young foreign talent and signing expensive foreign talent. The current emphasis is on developing young players and quickly selling them on, and as these transfers usually happen in the summer it means they regularly lose some of their best players just before playing their most important games of the season.
In the future, Salzburg’s path to the group stage will be even harder with UEFA cutting the number of group-stage places allocated to teams from outside the top 10 leagues from seven to four.
New boss...Marco Rose
Beaten...Rijeka (in white) bring Salzburg down to earth