He took RB Leipzig to second in his maiden Bundesliga season, made stars out of Timo Werner, Naby Keita and Emil Forsberg, and says his philosophy matches the 'heavy-metal football' beloved of Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp, but who exactly is the new Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl?
Once dubbed “The Alpine Klopp”, the Austrian has previously said he is not fond of comparisons with his fellow manager, but the 51-year-old himself does acknowledge the similarities.
"[Klopp and I] did our coaching badges together and we know each other very well," he said. "I think we appreciate a similar philosophy on football - we want to play a high tempo game, we want our guys to sprint around, press well and these are elements which make the game livelier and varied and get people excited."
Watch: How Hasenhüttl made RB Leipzig into a Bundesliga force
And now, Hasenhüttl has also made the journey to the UK having been appointed the new manager of English Premier League side Southampton. It brings to an end - for the time being - a 20-year love affair with German football that began when Hasenhüttl joined Cologne as a 30-year-old striker from Belgian side Lierse in 1998.
Lahm, Schweini & Ralph
Bernd Schuster was in charge of Die Geißböcke (The Billy Goats) following Cologne’s relegation from the Bundesliga the previous season. Although far from prolific with just three goals in 43 games, Hasenhüttl would help his club back to Germany’s top-tier in his second season at the club as they clinched the Bundesliga 2 title.
Hasenhüttl parted ways with Cologne before he got a chance to play in the top-flight, dropping back into the second tier with Greuther Fürth the following season. He would go on to score 13 times in 55 appearances for The Shamrocks, who registered back-to-back fifth-placed finishes during Hasenhüttl’s time at the club.
The striker’s career would end after two seasons with Bayern Munich's reserves in the Regionalliga Süd, where Hassenhüttl moved from front to back, playing as a central defender alongside fledgling talents Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm. He eventually hung up his boots in 2004 after 15 goals in 58 games for Bayern's second team for whom he was a paternal figure.
"Our bus driver had a tendency to drive fast," recounted Hasenhüttl's former Bayern II coach Hermann Gerland. "Ralph would run right to the front of the bus and tell him: 'Are you mad? Drive sensibly. I have three kids at home.' It was great."
First coaching role
Hasenhüttl’s move into coaching was immediate, staying in Munich with a youth team coaching role at Unterhaching. He would then go from assistant coach at the club to take charge of the first team himself in 2007, spending two-and-a-half-years in the job during which the highlight was a fourth-placed finish in Germany's third division.
Sacked by Unterhaching in February 2010, Hasenhüttl returned to management a year later at Aalen, who sat just a point above the third division relegation zone. Hasenhüttl secured their status that year before leading them to promotion in his first full season the following campaign. He guided them to a solid ninth place in Bundesliga 2 before leaving in June 2013.
Watch: The lowdown on Hasenhüttl's former club, RB Leipzig
A move back to Bavaria beckoned for Hasenhüttl, whose switch to Ingosladt - then at the bottom of Bundesliga 2 - would be the step that would eventually push him into the limelight.
They would rise to tenth by the end of the season before Hasenhüttl made history at the club, taking them into the Bundesliga for the first time ever. That Ingosladt side contained the likes of Mathew Leckie, Pascal Groß, Benjamin Hübner, Danny da Costa and Ramazan Özcan, and Hasenhüttl would consolidate their Bundesliga status finishing 11th in 2015/16.
Hasenhüttl would not renew his contract, though, and instead went to Leipzig to take charge of Die Roten Bullen following their historic promotion to the Bundesliga. His impact was instant and prodigious, guiding the upstart side to a second-place finish in its first Bundesliga tilt, winning plaudits within and beyond Germany’s borders for their successful brand of breakneck football that put both club and manager on the map.
UEFA Champions League football was the reward for a team including Werner, Keita and Forsberg that thrived in Hasenhüttl’s patented 4-2-2-2, which demanded non-stop pressing, immense output from full-backs and a team focused on turning the retention of possession into lightning quick attacking transitions.
“The aim was to capture the ball, switch and quickly advance, in not more than 10 seconds. Of course, it depends on where on the pitch we win the ball. Lots of possibilities. We scored a lot of goals in this manner in their first season. Lots of early and intense pressing,” were Hasenhüttl’s own words to describe his Leipzig team in an interview with Football Paradise.
The following term saw the team juggle European and domestic football and again impress with a sixth-placed finish, as well as reaching the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals after spinning out of the Champions League group stage.
Luck and Lookman
He also has the handy quality of all the best coaches: good fortune. "He was lucky I left him on," explained Hasenhüttl of Ademola Lookman after bringing on - and nearly taking off - the on-loan Everton forward on his Bundesliga debut in February 2018; the English youngster then scored the matchwinner against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
"He was losing his footing a lot. He wore [his boots] in training yesterday and was just sliding all over the place. He was slipping again today and I wanted to take him off just before he scored, but luckily we kept him out there!"
While Hasenhüttl parted ways with Leipzig at the end of 2017/18, he did so as one of the league's most revered managers having left an indelible mark on each of the German clubs he coached.
So just what is it like to support a club under Hasenhüttl’s mentorship? We’ll let the Austrian take that one...
“I think no matter where I've worked, in Aalen or Ingolstadt or here [in Leipzig], the stadiums have always been full as a result of how we played. It’s successful, attractive and represents a particular way of life and that's down to our philosophy. There's a saying: ‘Either you give the people what they want to see or one of you looks for a new stadium’. I agree with that 100 per cent,” he said.
With Southampton struggling in the Premier League, a revolution is needed at St. Mary’s and - if his time in the Bundesliga is anything to go by - Hasenhüttl may just be the man to provide it.
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