Red Bull Salzburg
Missing out on Champions League – again
Under pressure from UEFA regarding multiple-club ownership, Red Bull now only serve as Salzburg’s main sponsors, paying for around 30 per cent of their annual costs
W inners of the past five Austrian league titles and nine in total this century, Red Bull Salzburg have a constant and unremitting tendency to trip themselves up when it comes to making the Champions League group phase.
Since the soft-drink conglomerate began its association with the club in 2005, Salzburg have failed in all 11 of their attempts to qualify for the group stage, losing to teams such as Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv of Israel, Luxembourg’s Dudelange and Rijeka from Croatia.
This season there was a widespread belief at the Red Bull Arena that their elite-level duck was finally about to be broken. Their march to the semi-finals of last season’s Europa League – during which they claimed the scalps of Borussia Dortmund and Lazio – had raised morale no end. They had also held on to impressive German coach Marco Rose and rising star midfielders Hannes Wolf and Amadou Haidara, who were both in the Salzburg side that won the UEFA Youth League in 2017.
However, that optimism was to prove misplaced as their dream was smashed to pieces in the play-off round by Red Star in a case of “Euro Groundhog Day”. Seemingly home and dry after holding the Belgrade side to a goalless draw in the away leg and then going 2-0 up in the return, the Austrians inexplicably fell asleep, conceding two goals in 77 devastating seconds and eventually going out on the away-goals rule.
“It’s a hammer blow and it hurts a lot,” said Rose afterwards. “We really deserved to win. Even after being pegged back we still had chances to secure the victory. It’s a terribly bitter evening for us.”
Salzburg director of sport Christoph
Freund insists that another season without elite European football will not have any effect on future transfer-market activity, pointing out that the club do not budget for a place in the Champions League proper, only counting on income from the preliminary rounds and the Europa League.
But they have certainly missed out on a huge windfall. Qualification for the Champions League group stage would have brought them in excess of € 20million. By way of comparison, they only made half that figure in their exceptional Europa League run last term.
Having dropped into the Europa League once again, they began this season’s campaign away to fellow Red Bull outfit RB Leipzig and won 3-2 thanks to a last-minute goal from Norwegian striker Fredrik Gulbrandsen.
In contrast to the free-spending German outfit, Salzburg have to keep a close eye on their finances. Under pressure from UEFA regarding multiple-club ownership, Red Bull stopped being Salzburg’s proprietors in 2015 and now only serve as their main sponsors, paying for around 30 per cent of the annual costs. Budgetary belts have had to be tightened and they are now a selling club, having cashed in on such players as Sadio Mane and Naby Keita of late.
The good news for Salzburg is a UEFA rule change means that, from next season, the Austrian league winners will go directly into the Champions League group draw. And given the start Salzburg have made to their domestic campaign, the end of the drought could be in sight.
“The way we operate and our goals have not fundamentally altered,” says Freund. “The plan is to establish ourselves in the Champions League and compete well in it. One of our cornerstones is our academy and the aim is to have a firstteam which is at least three-quarters made up of youth graduates.”
Hope...a banner at the home game against Red Star
Flying start...Red Bull salzburg won all seven of their opening league games, including this 3-1 victory over admira