Recipe for success
Seven matches in and neighbours FK Austrian Wien and SK Rapid Wien occupy the top two places in the Bundesliga, level on 13 points with newcomers LASK Linz. For the two capital clubs, the recipe for success appears the same: afflicted by relegation worries last winter, both bought sensibly as well as putting their trust in young homegrown talent.
Austria, champions in 2006, went top of the table with a 1-0 win at SV Mattersburg on 19 August and although coach Georg Zellhofer played down their early placing as "nothing more than a snap-shot", they appear to warrant their status as title favourites alongside neighbours Rapid and champions FC Salzburg. This is down in no small part to a shift in transfer policy which means they are no longer viewed as big-spending underachievers. Experienced imports like Poland defender Jacek Bak and midfielders Jocelyn Blanchard and Milenko Ačimovič remain yet the club believes they have found a better blend.
"In the winter and summer we tried to sign players that fit into the team. Not only when it comes to character, but to the club's philosophy as well. Gone are the expensive transfers," said general manager Thomas Parits. "We are one family again. There are 20 Austrians in our 28-man squad and the majority of them are still very young but they have role models in Blanchard, Ačimovič and Bak."
Over in the west of the city, neighbours Rapid are also enjoying life at the moment. Their 1-0 win versus Salzburg on 19 August was their first against the title-holders in two years and means they have gone 12 months undefeated at their Gerhard Hanappi-Stadion. "It pleases me to see that opponents show us respect once more when they come to our stadium," said Rapid coach Peter Pacult, who replaced Zellhofer - now his direct rival at Austria - in the post last season.
The signings of Croatia's Mario Tokić, Finland's Markus Heikkinen, German midfielder Steffen Hofman and Brazilian forward Fabiano have all paid off while young hopefuls Christian Thonhofer, Veli Kavlak or Ümit Körkmaz have enhanced a feel-good factor that is helping draw capacity crowds. After sending out a strong message to their domestic rivals, both Rapid and neighbours Austria also have their sights set on earning a place in the UEFA Cup. Rapid take a 3-0 lead into their second qualifying round return against FC Dinamo Tbilisi on 30 August, while Austria must protect a narrow 4-3 first-leg victory against FK Jablonec 97.
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