Salzburg fail in Europe again

World Soccer - - Contents - BRIAN HOMEWOOD

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

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