By Kadira Malkoc
FK Austria Wien are making huge strides to restore their once-great reputation in Austrian football as they take this season's Bundesliga by storm following a nine-year barren spell.
One of the two leading Vienna clubs - along with SK Rapid Wien who are languishing in mid-table - Austria Wien have started the 2002/2003 campaign in excellent form, having led the table from day one. They also have such strength in depth, solid financial backing and a superb technical staff that few would bet on them relinquishing that top spot throughout the course of the season.
It is unusual for one club to be such firm favourites so early in the season and, in fact, Wien were voted unanimously as the club most likely to win the title by coaches of all ten Bundesliga clubs in a summer poll.
UEFA Cup campaign
Following the relegation of last season's champions, FC Tirol Innsbruck, because of bankruptcy, Wien once more find themselves in the ascendancy having bought a number of Tirol's players on the back of the financial input of their benefactor Frank Stronach. With the club also competing in this season's UEFA Cup - where they meet the Ukrainian club FC Shakhtar Donetsk - for the first time since 1995 it promises to be an exciting season for Wien fans.
The man behind the scenes for Wien is Stronach, a wealthy and influential businessman whose aim is to make Wien a force not just in domestic football but on the European scene as well. Stronach is a ray of light for Wien in a Bundesliga where many clubs are struggling financially.
The Wien squad has been carefully chosen and is packed with talent. The Norwegian international striker Sigurd Rushfeldt has been signed on a three-year contract and Radoslav Gilewicz and Jürgen Panis have been bought from Tirol. Thomas Flögl has also returned home from the Scottish side Heart of Midlothian FC and the defence has been reinforced by the former Rapid captain Kristof Ratajczyk. Indeed, his coach Walter Schachner was full of praise for the centre-back. "Ratajczyk is one of the best players in the Bundesliga and he has brought the necessary stability to our defence," the coach said.
The club have also signed two Brazilians, Djalminha and Julio Cesar, who both came from the Spanish Primera División and seem determined to make an impact in Austria. "I will do everything humanly possible to help Austria win back their international reputation," said Djalminha who joined from RC Deportivo La Coruña in the summer. "I hope that with my presence the reputation of the whole country will rise again."
On loan from Madrid
Julio Cesar, meanwhile, has joined Wien on a year's loan from Real Madrid CF where he had built a reputation as a talented and reliable defender who can play on either the left or the right. The Brazilian duo are set to make their debuts against second-placed SV Pasching tonight in the league.
Strength in depth
Such is Wien's strength in depth that they have cover for every position on the field and a second XI that could probably give many other Austrian clubs a run for their money. This inevitably means some star players will be left on the bench on occasion but the coach feels that this will not lead to problems. "We are on a road which will last several years and for that we need a large choice," Schachner said. "All of the players are professionals who earn a lot of money and they have to accept that they will be on the bench sometimes."
Only time will tell if Wien's dream of European football and the prestigious UEFA Champions League is attainable. However, what is not up for dispute is that they have made an extremely encouraging start. "The quality is there. Now the team have to get used to each other and start achieving international success," said Stronach.
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