Former Bundesliga coaches are all the rage in England these days. On Wednesday, Southampton FC became the latest Premier League club to look to Germany for new stewardship, announcing the appointment of former RB Leipzig and Ingolstadt boss Ralph Hasenhüttl to replace the sacked Mark Hughes. The Austrian has signed a contract that will keep him at the club until the summer of 2021.
Hasenhüttl will have his work cut out for him, as Southampton currently sit 18th in the Premier League, a point behind Huddersfield Town and are winless in their last 10 league games. That Huddersfield also have a former Bundesliga man in the dugout — ex-Borussia Dortmund number two David Wagner — could provide one of the more interesting subplots as the second half of the season develops. The Austrian's task will be to emulate the German's achievements from last season — keeping a troubled side in the division.
Elsewhere in England, fellow Bundesliga alumni Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp are enjoying vastly different fortunes to those at the bottom. Manchester City and Liverpool are sitting first and second in the league respectively, playing some of the most exhilarating football the Premier League has seen in a long time.
Anyone who watched Hasenhüttl's RB Leipzig side will know the new Southampton boss is no stranger to high-octane football himself. On their day, his Leipzig side were a match for anyone in the Bundesliga. A hard-pressing, dynamic and technically savvy group, they stunned experts by finishing second in their first top-flight season in the 16-17 season. Even the most die-hard Southampton fan would admit there’s been a lack of energy and fight in their side and Hasenhüttl's style of play should provide an upgrade.
The Austrian's commitment to developing young players will have played a major factor in Southampton’s decision. The 51-year old presided over one of the Bundesliga's youngest teams at Leipzig. The likes of Timo Werner (22), Dayot Upamecano (20) and Jean-Kevin Augustin (21) were trusted to play week in, week out by Hasenhüttl and developed into some of the league’s most exciting talents under his care.
Southampton take pride in having one of the Premier League’s most productive youth academies. Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Theo Walcott were all relatively recent trainees at the club, all of whom have gone on to represent their countries. In the current squad, however, only James Ward-Prowse has successfully made the step up from the youth ranks and Hasenhüttl will be expected to find the next gem.
More good news for Southampton fans is Hasenhüttl’s track record when it comes to rescuing a floundering side at the foot of the table. He did just that with Ingolstadt in the 2013-14 season, taking the second division club from bottom of the table to a 10th placed finish after taking the reins in October. The following season, Ingolstadt were promoted as champions.
Of course, any expectations on Hasenhüttl should be tempered given the Premier League is a different kettle of fish to the Bundesliga. He has no experience in English football either as a player or as a coach and isn't likely to be given too much time to make an impact.
Hasenhüttl has also been depicted as a prickly character to work with in the past, having walked away from both Ingolstadt and RB Leipzig over disputes about transfer budgets and contracts respectively. But, if the man from Graz can keep the Saints marching on into next season’s Premier League campaign, he’ll have no shortage of friends on England's southern coast.
The Austrian watched from the stands on Wednesday as his new team lost 3-1 to Tottenham at Wembley. He will first take his place in Southampton's dugout in Cardiff on Saturday.Ed McCambridge