Koller feels for colleague but wants to win
Austria manager has qualification concerns of his own and looks to Alaba to advance
Austria manager Marcel Koller oversees training at the Ernst Happel Stadion in Vienna, ahead of tonight’s World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Most coaches would be sympathetic to Giovanni Trapattoni’s plight just now but having been fired from his last club job – Bochum – after the fans protested against the poor results and boring football his side was delivering, Marcel Koller knows better than most what his colleague is going through.
The 52-year-old Swiss lacks the charisma of his opposite number tonight, with his performance at yesterday’s prematch press conference so low key that every time he so much as raised a hand slightly to emphasise a point the whirring of cameras almost drowned out his answer.
Still, he is well placed to do empathy, which he duly did.
“In this profession, we (managers) are a little group and you never wish anything bad on one of your colleagues,” he continued.
“He is somebody who has shown so much passion down the years I am convinced he has always done his best for his teams, most recently Ireland, so I don’t wish him any ill . . . although naturally, I hope we will win the game tomorrow.”
The Irish, he tries to maintain, are favourites on the basis of the two sides’ respective world rankings and he is respectful towards both Trapattoni’s team and his tactics.
Still, there is a sense the current trajectory of this Austria side is, given their already significant improvement in this campaign after the poor attempt to qualify for Euro2012, is different to that of Ireland who, of course, made it there.
And the fact the backbone of the side plays at decent clubs in Germany suggests there is a fair amount of quality in the group, although few possess anything approaching the talent of 21-year-old David Alaba, whose late equaliser in Dublin marked a major turning point in the Irish campaign.
“The games in Dublin and here against Sweden (when he also scored, the first goal in a 2-1 win) were incredible, the sorts of nights that are burned into the memory,” says the Bayern Munich star, the son of a Filipino nurse and a Nigerian DJ.
He first made the Austria Vienna bench for a Bundesliga game aged 15, was a full international at 17 and won everything going with his German club last year.
“To make the World Cup would be a dream come true, and not just for me. Of course, it will be difficult but with the way we have been steadily developing we are still optimistic.”
He is certainly central to their hopes of rescuing the situation over the next three games as Koller acknowledges.
“He’s an extremely important player for us,” says the coach. “Even at 21 years he already has very big experience.
“To succeed, you have to play at the very top level and he does that. He has great perception and technique but he doesn’t think he is something above the group; he is always fighting for the team and that is what makes him so special.”
And, as he showed in Dublin with his 93rd-minute strike, he never gives up, something the Irish might take inspiration from as they try to keep their slim qualification hopes alive.