The conspicuous absence of relegated champions FC Tirol Innsbruck has given FK Austria Wien's Austrian Bundesliga title aspirations a major boost.
Wien's qualification for the UEFA Cup, their first since losing to FC Dinamo Minsk in 1995, a significant injection of finance from benefactor Frank Stronach, and the signing of key players from Tirol have raised expectations that this could be a big season for them both domestically and in Europe.
Although neighbours SK Rapid Wien - who last won the league title in 1996 - are not expected to be in the title reckoning, Wien - who lasted tasted championship success in 1993 - are strongly fancied title challengers with an excellent squad and technical staff. Ironically, the misfortunes of Tirol have benefited their Viennese rivals, with Radoslaw Gilewicz, Jürgen Panis and Thomas Flöge all moving to the Franz Horr stadium.
Rushfeldt stays on
It is also good news that Norwegian international Sigurd Rushfeldt, who made a valuable contribution to the club's efforts last season, has extended his contract for another three years. In fact the club now have so much talent that even their so-called second team could probably finish mid-table. "We want to form a stable team for the future and stay at the top. There are seventeen or 18 players who could easily play against [SV] Ried on Tuesday," said coach Walter Schachner.
Onus on the team
"We are preparing for many years ahead. And to do that we need the right resources. Everyone in the squad is 100 per cent professional, they earn a lot of money and they have to accept that they may have to sit on the bench," Schachner added. It remains to be seen whether Wien will be able to fulfil the hopes of Stronach, their major benefactor. With the quality players in place, the onus is now on the team to form a strong unit so as to make an impact in European competition.
Domestic football experts say that the only real threat to Wien's title aspirations comes from Grazer AK and SK Sturm Graz. Rapid have failed to strengthen their squad and recent statements by Rapid's coach, Joseph Hickersberger, tend to suggest that he would be happy just for his team to stay out of the relegation zone. The Bundesliga kicks off with hot favourites Wien taking on Ried on Tuesday.
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