Red Bull Salzburg

Miss­ing out on Cham­pi­ons League – again

World Soccer - - Contents - Nick Bid­well

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

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