Georg Zellhofer is hoping to lift FK Austria Wien back to the top of their domestic league as well as to UEFA Cup group-stage glory after a dismal early season.
After 13 rounds of the campaign, reigning champions Austria found themselves at the foot of the Austrian Bundesliga, in a week when a 4-1 UEFA Cup home defeat by SV Zulte Waregem preceded a 4-0 domestic thrashing at FC Salzburg. Understandably, it was the last straw for coach Frenkie Schinkels.
History will record that Schinkels led Austria to the worst start in their history. Following his dismissal by president Frank Stronach, however, many had sympathy given that, in his words, the vast majority of his players had "left what they assumed was a sinking ship" in the summer. With Canadian businessman Stronach deciding to withdraw his significant financial support of the club, the likes of Roland Linz, Libor Sionko, Joey Didulica and Sigurd Rushfeldt all moved on in the wake of the 2005/06 championship triumph, leaving Schinkels to mount a title defence with a skeleton staff.
However, with a 4-1 win in their first outing under Zellhofer, against FC Wacker Tirol last Saturday, the hope is that the Austria ghost ship can be made seaworthy again. "I can't even remember when we last scored four goals," said captain Jocelyn Blanchard. "Austria are the reigning champions and must live up to that reputation," explained new sporting director Thomas Parits of the decision to swap Schinkels for former FCS Pasching and SK Rapid Wien chief Zellhofer. "I had to make changes. The harmony between the coach and the team was disturbed."
Few Austria coaches have been given much of a chance to succeed in recent years. The club have had 22 trainers since 1990 - 12 in seven seasons under Stronach - with league championships and European progress having done little to keep the likes of Herbert Prohaska, Josef Hickersberger and Günter Kronsteiner in work. Yet, after a lively performance against Wacker in which Austria displayed renewed attacking zeal, the 46-year-old Zellhofer shows promise at least. His players are simply relieved. "Now we know what it is like to see the ball in the back of the net again," said Hannes Aigner, who scored twice at the weekend.
The test of any new confidence will come as Austria take on AFC Ajax in tonight's UEFA Cup Group F game in Amsterdam. Polish international Sebastian Mila is certainly up for it, saying: "I was very unhappy under our previous coach and wanted to leave, but when Zellhofer took over, I knew my day would come. Now I want to play against Ajax."
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