“I think no matter where I've worked, 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.”
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s principles on how football should be played are ones that are likely to strike a chord with Southampton fans, as he takes over as the club’s new manager.
The above quote, from an interview with the Bundesliga’s official website earlier this year, gives a glimpse into the sort of approach the Saints boss will likely want to bring to St Mary’s, and the atmosphere he will be keen to create there.
Hasenhüttl has been honing that approach throughout his managerial career, since it began in the third tier of German football, with SpVgg Unterhaching, in 2007, but it was at his most recent club, RB Leipzig, where it gained the greatest attention.
the aim was to capture the ball, switch and quickly advance, in not more than ten seconds.ralph hasenhüttl
on his philosophy at rb leipzig
His first season in charge – 2016/17 – saw the newly-promoted side produce a sensational campaign, finishing second in the Bundesliga, behind only Bayern Munich, as their high-energy brand of football brought them incredible success and a host of admirers.
“The aim was to capture the ball, switch and quickly advance, in not more than 10 seconds,” Hasenhüttl explained in an interview with the Football Paradise website in September.
“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.”
It took Leipzig to the Champions League, and eventually the quarter-finals of the Europa League, as well as a sixth-place finish in Germany’s top-flight in 2017/18.
Hasenhüttl’s approach, and his penchant for the occasionally emotional celebration, have resulted in comparisons being drawn with Jürgen Klopp, who he studied alongside while earning his coaching badges.
It is not something that the 51-year-old necessarily enjoys – admitting to German paper BILD previously that it annoyed him a bit, but there is a mutual admiration between the two.
“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,” Hasenhüttl told Bundesliga.com.
“A good guy,” Klopp said of him just this week. “Very lively football, very aggressive, pressing. It sounds like a win-win situation.”
While there is an inherent compliment in the comparisons to Liverpool’s manager, it is to do a disservice to Hasenhüttl to label him as a mirror of someone else. As he himself has said, he wants to be known as “Hasenhüttl, not Klopp.”
It was in Graz, Austria, in August 1967 that his own story began, born to parents Ingrid and Gilbert.
Both were, and remain, passionate about the arts, with his mum a keen lover of music and fashion, having run a boutique in their home city, while his dad is an accomplished painter. Both also enjoy dancing.
Hasenhüttl himself has an artistic streak, enjoying the opportunity, when he gets it, to play the piano.
It is his teams, however, that he perhaps produces the best tune of all from.
my talent in football was not the highest, but i was very hard working.ralph hasenhüttl
southampton's new first team manager
From a young age, Hasenhüttl had been drawn to sport, and particularly football.
By his own admission, his playing career was not a sparkling one, but he still won eight caps for his country and played more than 400 league games as a centre-forward, beginning with hometown Grazer AK, before a very productive spell at FK Austria Wien, eventually going on to clubs in Belgium and then Germany, finishing with Bayern Munich II.
If he was not necessarily a household name as a player, he would soon begin to become one as a coach.
“My talent in [playing] football was not the highest, but I was very hard-working, interested to learn and get better, and this focus made me better and better,” he said to Football Paradise.
Lessons learned on the pitch as a player helped power Hasenhüttl forward as a trainer.
He began from the bottom rung in Germany, with Unterhaching, a 3.Bundesliga outfit.
Taking over in late 2007, he produced a record of 40 wins and 20 draws from 88 games through to leaving in 2010.
His next opportunity would come at another third-tier outfit in Germany, VfR Aalen, and it was here where Hasenhüttl really began to build his reputation.
Taking over in January 2011, he helped steer the side to safety from a precarious league position, before building a team that went on to win promotion to 2.Bundesliga in the 2011/12 campaign, with Hasenhüttl then guiding the squad to a top-half finish in their first season at the higher level.
His next destination would be FC Ingolstadt, another club in Germany’s second division, where he would enjoy an incredibly successful spell lasting just under three years.
Hasenhüttl’s time in charge was transformative for Ingolstadt, who went from the bottom of 2.Bundesliga to promotion as champions in 2014/15 and then a comfortable, 11th-place finish in their first campaign in the top flight.
“It was a very big development for me as a trainer,” said Hasenhüttl of his apprenticeship in the lower divisions. “I think it’s very necessary for every trainer to take these steps, and I’m very glad I got the chance to. It was very important for me. The learning never stops.”
The summer of 2016 would then mark the moment that Hasenhüttl went to the next level in his managerial career, as he was appointed as manager of newly-promoted Bundesliga side Leipzig, with previous coach Ralf Rangnick – often credited as one of the chief architects of the high-intensity pressing game – having taken on the full-time role of sporting director at the club.
Leipzig, under their new coach, were a revelation.
our successes are a result of hard work on the pitch. when our game flows, we're not easy to stop.ralph hasenhüttl
speaking during his time as rb leipzig manager
A sign of what was to come appeared in only their second league game of the season, as they earned a surprise 1-0 home win over Thomas Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund, before demolishing Hamburg 4-0 away from home in their next match.
It would be December before Leipzig lost a game, with a run of eight consecutive Bundesliga victories the highlight.
Their success was built on a recipe of intense pressing of the opposition when they had the ball, laying traps and provoking errors, before looking to counter swiftly and overload.
It was an approach that so many other sides struggled to come to grips with.
In the end, Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern Munich always remained out of touch at the very top, but Leipzig barely faltered, finishing as runners-up and earning a Champions League spot.
“It might sound pretty dull, but our successes are a result of hard work on the pitch,” Hasenhüttl said at the time. “In terms of running, we're one of the best in the Bundesliga. Our tempo, quick thinking and cognitive abilities – qualities all the players possess – have made it possible to put every team under pressure. And when we're in our groove and our game flows, we're not easy to stop.”
With a European campaign to embark upon – Leipzig finished third in their Champions League group, before making the quarter-finals of the Europa League – their next season was not quite as electric, but they still earned a top-six finish in the top-flight, before Hasenhüttl decided the time was right to step away.
He explained earlier this year: “It was a pity we missed out on the Champions League by two points, but, after two seasons, I had pressed everything what I would out of this team, and even though I had one more year left on my contract, I spoke to Ralf [Rangnick, and said] ‘This team needs a new impact or a new trainer.’
“There are two possibilities – one is that there is a new trainer with new ideas, or you change the team. But this is a very good, young team and that’s not possible. So we end these two successful years on a good note and I go on a little break and then look for new opportunities.”
And now, that new opportunity has been found, as the Ralph Hasenhüttl era at Southampton begins.