Austria's population density is below the numbers of much of Europe. Vienna is their only real metropolis, while just four other cities in Austria have more than 100,000 citizens. It is no surprise, then, that four members of Austria's top flight are essentially village clubs. Two of these, however, have started to make their presence felt in the Bundesliga.
For years, Austrian club football has been dominated by the so-called 'big four of FC Salzburg, SK Rapid Wien, FK Austria Wien and SK Sturm Graz. These clubs had significant financial advantages over the rest of the league and more often than not decided the championship among themselves. But signs are that things might not stay that way.
In each of the last two seasons, SV Ried have secured a UEFA Europa League qualifying spot, while a third-place finish last term for top-flight debutants VfB Admira Wacker Mödling has also brought them continental football. Austria Wien and Sturm Graz, meanwhile, were both left empty handed in terms of European participation for the first time in ten seasons.
Admira will start the new season with more or less the exact team that impressed last year, so expectations are that they will take another step forward. "The way Admira secured their Europa League spot last season was extremely moving," explained Austrian Football Association (ÖFB) president Leopold Windtner. "They have put something very special together and their success is no fluke, it's hard work."
Riding a wave of euphoria last season after their promotion, Admira now face the tough task of repeating last year's feats. It is not an impossibility, however, especially as 18-year-old prodigy Marcel Sabitzer has decided to stay another year in Modling, despite having attracted the attention of several of Europe's big-name clubs.
The success is less of a surprise for Ried, party crashers for several seasons now. "Ried have proved that they are a club run in a profound and lasting manner," says Windtner.
Stefan Reiter, manager at Ried, is widely considered as a major factor in the club's success – something that newly-appointed coach Heinz Fuchsbichler was well aware of before he arrived: "Usually when I have contract talks, I arrive with a detailed plan," Fuchsbichler said. "When meeting with manager Reiter, however, I knew I didn't need one since everything here is properly set up within the appropriate framework."
Ried were top of the table at the halfway point last season, while Admira enjoyed six matchdays at the summit themselves. Is it now time for one of this pair to go for ultimate glory? It is definitely possible, but officially at least they prefer to downplay their ambitions for the upcoming campaign.
"I know how this business works; f we aren't successful next year, we would become the laughing stock of the league," says Admira coach Dietmar Kühbauer. Whether he will admit it or not, times have changed in Austria, and people are now talking about the 'big four plus two'.
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