24 Jan 2020
Doha, 24 January 2020. For a decade, Salzburg has been trying to reach the UEFA Champions League group stages, and thanks to performing very well in the Europa League in the recent years - including semi-final in 2018 - the Austrians directly qualified for Europe’s elite club competition in the 2019-20 season. There they managed to impress football fans with their aggressive style of playing against defending UEFA Champions League champion FC Liverpool, SSC Napoli and Genk. This year, the Austrians chose Aspire Academy as destination for their winter training camp – for them it’s a return to Doha after five years.
One of the two players in the squad, who was already in Doha in 2015 was Brazilian defender Andre Ramalho. The 27-year-old, who also played for Bayer Leverkusen and Mainz in Germany before returning to Salzburg in 2018, remembers his first trip to Aspire Academy quite well. “This was already a spectacular place five years ago and I can see that it has increased over the years. I am sure it continues to be a hot spot for football clubs, because it has everything you need for a good preparation.” Red Bull Salzburg-head coach Jesse Marsch was also at Aspire five years ago. That time, however, he was in charge of the New York Red Bulls and came to Doha to exchange know-how with his colleagues from Red Bull Salzburg and Red Bull Leipzig during their winter preparations at Aspire.
“I remember how nice the people were at Aspire and then the great conditions. The training environment here is fantastic, maybe one of the best I’ve ever been to. It’s good to get work done, but we also can enjoy the good weather, enjoy the environment here and the people and everything. It’s really nice to be back,” says the American, who joined the Austrians at the beginning of the 2019-20 season coming from a stint as assistant coach in Leipzig.
Asked about differences in coaching in the USA and in Europe, he smiles. “Yeah, it’s different. I mean the main thing is speaking in German, so I had to learn a lot of German in the last few years, but you know it’s always about people and so as much as it’s a little in a different league, it’s still just about having good relationships and working together and challenging people to put themselves last and put the group first and we’ve done that here. I think we have had great success, so it’s been a lot of fun.”
After the club had waited all this time for hearing the UEFA Champions League anthem, the Austrian champion could not have started more impressive into the competition than they did in September 2019: They trashed Belgian side Genk 6-2 in their group-stage opener having 19-year-old striker Erling Braut Haaland receiving a standing ovation from the Red Bull Salzburg fans after scoring a first-half hat-trick on his UEFA Champions League debut Tuesday, where he became the third youngest player to score a Champions League treble -- behind only Raul and Wayne Rooney. “This game was something really special to our fans and everyone at Red Bull, because we had been waiting so long to get to this stage,” Ramalho remembers this historic day.
At the end of the group stage, including a hard fought 4-3 defeat to Liverpool, where the Austrians came back from a 3-0 deficit, the club finished third in the group that sent them straight to the last 32 of Europa League where they are going to face German side Eintracht Frankfurt. A team that Haaland is going to face as well in 2020, but in a different shirt. After scoring 28 goals in 22 games for Salzburg in only one half of a season, he signed for Borussia Dortmund during the winter break, scoring a hat-trick on his Bundesliga-debut against Mainz. Haaland is a great example of a young player, who successfully developed at Red Bull Salzburg and then made the next step.
For Jesse Marsch, creating the right environment for young players is the key for such a positive development. “I think it’s about empowering them to be successful. It’s helping them to understand as people what their strengths and weaknesses are and then as players what their strengths and weaknesses are and then how to take their qualities and commit to what we do here at the highest level. We’re big about working hard on the field every day and giving everything, but we’re also big on enjoying the experience and allowing these young players to express themselves and feel positive energy. So when we have done that effectively, then we see guys grow, we see them play better and better and step on the field with confidence and really play for each other. It’s always the goal to help them almost more as people than even players.”
Within a few months, Haaland has become an inspiration for players of his generation. His former teammate at Red Bull, 19-year-old midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai, who has already played for Hungary’s senior national team, knows what made the Norwegian so successful. “Of course, it’s not easy, to do these things as a young player. But Erling’s success proved that hard work and dedication eventually pay off. He showed that it’s possible to compete at this high level at that age and he has definitely become a role model for other young players.”
In course of their training camp, Red Bull Salzburg defeated QSL-club Al Arabi 6-0 on January 18 and before they finish their preparation in Qatar, they are going to face FC Zenit, that is currently also training at Aspire Academy, on Saturday, January 25 at 4pm.