Messiahs, flying Dutchmen and whippets
So the messiah is back. He has swapped the punditÃ¢ÂÂs comfy sofa for the heart-melting melodrama that is life in the dug-out.
IÃ¢ÂÂm referring, of course, to Hans Krankl, AustriaÃ¢ÂÂs greatest living footballer, who has nine games to save his managerial career as the new boss at LASK Linz.
Krankl is the third man to coach Linz this season, a dismal time for a club that, in its 1965 heyday, became the first side from outside Vienna to win the Austrian league. Linz havenÃ¢ÂÂt won a game since December, and Krankl has admitted that the teamÃ¢ÂÂs recent form has been Ã¢ÂÂscandalous.Ã¢ÂÂ But so high are expectations that he has already had to advise the press: Ã¢ÂÂI am not a messiah.Ã¢ÂÂ
The confusion may have arisen because in his last job, as AustriaÃ¢ÂÂs national coach, he was crucified by the media after failing to reach the 2006 World Cup finals.
Not the Messiah, etc
Krankl has three things going for him. Two of them are SCR Altach and SV Mattersburg, the teams immediately below LASK Linz in the Austrian Bundesliga. With nine games left, Altach (who have also hired three managers this season) have 18 points (nine fewer than LASK) while Matterburg have amassed just 16 points but have the same goal difference (-30) as LASK.
Luckily for Krankl, only one team can go down.
The third thing working in KranklÃ¢ÂÂs favour is that the 56-year-oldÃ¢ÂÂs aura of greatness has not been entirely dissipated by his disappointing reign as national coach. Kranklmania has erupted in Linz, much to the delight of local sports photographer Martin Parzer.
But Krankl inherits an ageing, mediocre squad short on confidence. His most famous player, midfielder Ivica Vastic, is now 39 and his most prolific striker, Christian Mayrleb, is 36. Krankl and his assistant Heinrich Strasser have nine games to turn LASK Linz around and then the summer to ponder their future.
Austria doesnÃ¢ÂÂt just have its own returning messiah, it has its own David Beckham.
Unfortunately for Andreas Ivanschitz, aka the Austrian Becks, his career has taken a quantum leap into the doldrums Ã¢ÂÂ as BecksÃ¢ÂÂ did at Real under Capello. Benched by Henk Ten Cate at Panathinaikos, the 25-year-old Austrian midfielder was sensationally omitted from the squad for the World Cup qualifier against Romania.
Coach Dietmar Constantini, hired after Karel Bruckner and the Austrian FA parted Ã¢ÂÂby mutual consent,Ã¢ÂÂ gambled by dropping two other experienced stars: defender Martin Stranzl and midfielder Rene Aufhauser.
Stranzl (left) and Ivanschitz: dropped
His audacity was rewarded with AustriaÃ¢ÂÂs first win in six games, a morale boosting 2-1 triumph over a Romania side that looks increasingly likely to miss the 2010 World Cup.
Confirming the idea that Austrian football is a funhouse mirror reflection of the English game, the Austrian Bundesliga is also puzzling over the future of a globetrotting Dutch coach who, as the season nears its end, has a should I stay or should I go Guus Hiddink-style dilemma.
Co Adriaanse has done a terrific job at Red Bull Salzburg, a club that has been knocking on the door of the Champions League for some years but, so far, always be left out on the step. But he is tempted by the likely vacancy at PSV, HiddinkÃ¢ÂÂs old club.
If the Austrian national side had an up and coming young winger who sprints like a greyhound Ã¢ÂÂ and usually crosses like one Ã¢ÂÂ youÃ¢ÂÂd begin to suspect that Austrian and English football had been separated at birth.
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