In recent years the Austrian Bundesliga has been dominated by the big guns of FC Salzburg, SK Rapid Wien, FK Austria Wien and SK Sturm Graz, but things seem to have changed this season.
SV Ried, from a town whose 11,500 population would fit into Salzburg's home stadium three times over, ended 2010 four points clear of Sturm and Salzburg at the top of the table. "It really is a weird story that we have going on here," said Ried general manager Stefan Reiter.
The main protagonist in that story is coach Paul Gludovatz. The 64-year-old has created a united side with a distinctive 3-3-3-1 playing system that has bamboozled their opponents. Spearheading the attack are a clutch of players from Spain; between them Nacho, Iván Carril and Guillem Martí have scored half of Ried's 30 league goals.
The rest of the team, however, should not be underestimated. The Ried workhorses cleverly deny opposing sides space and specialise in launching quick counterattacks once the ball has been won. The 20-year-old winger Daniel Royer, an Austrian Under-21 international, has been linked with moves to Hamburger SV and Juventus already.
Surprisingly, the Ried job is Gludovatz's first in club football, having been involved as a coach with the Austrian Football Association (ÖFB) for many decades. He came to prominence in leading Austria to the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup semi-finals in Canada and went to Ried the following year.
Despite being tipped for relegation, he nearly steered Ried into Europe in his first season but a poor end to 2009/10 left them again among the favourites for the drop this time around. However, now it seems that Gludovatz knew what he was doing all along; he just accepted that his team would suffer defeats while he was trying to rebuild.
The results of that process are now there for all to see but Ried, who were first promoted to the Bundesliga in 1995 and picked up their only major honour in the Austrian Cup three years later, are not talking about the title yet. "We will not look at the table even in the future," said Gludovatz, whose target for the season – at least in public – remains a top-half finish.
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