Put out to Graz

The decline of Scotland and Austria was encapsulated by a Champions League game in 2000 featuring hardly any Scots or Austrians, as Cris Freddi recalls

This being the Champions League, Rangers weren’t expected to stay around for long. It’s been the story of their lives for the last decade or so. This time at least they’d given themselves a real chance of reaching the second round, winning their first two group matches 5-0 against today’s opponents and 1-0 in Monaco. But this was a right rollercoaster of a group, and by the time they arrived in Graz they’d taken only one point from two matches with Galatasaray, while Sturm had won 2-0 at home to Monaco, who then thumped the Istanbul side.

And Rangers couldn’t take too much heart from the injuries that kept out Markus Schopp, who’d scored the goals against Monaco, and the Austrian international striker Ivica Vastic. Rangers themselves had to bring in Christiansen as a late replacement in goal for Stefan Klos, and Numan, Van Bronckhorst and Wal­lace were only just back from injury. Two patched-up teams gave us that sort of match.

After Fleurquin had missed an early chance from a loose ball, another good pass by Reinmayr sent Yuran through a wide-open defence, after which Sturm could sit back on their lead. Dick Advocaat had called his team “bigheads” the previous weekend, but it wasn’t so much over­-confidence as a lack of real quality that made them waste so much possession. Plus playing in the Arnie Schwarzenegger Stadium, against a team that replaces Markus Schopp with Markus Schupp, could unbalance anyone, especially if you’re vulnerable to pace at the back.

Prilasnig, who’d earlier headed just wide, scored in injury time, just after Numan had been sent off for a second bookable offence, the first the heinous crime of coming back on to the field without permission (“The referee waved me back on,” he insisted) after treatment for a foul by Mame­dov. That’s about it as far as incidents are concerned. And the story isn’t really about the latest Rangers departure from Europe (the result even­tually cost them a place in the second round). I’m more interested in the teamsheets.

Compare and contrast with the past. Rangers field­ed a Dane, a Turk, a Russian, an Eng­lishman, three Ita­lians and four Dutchmen. Sturm put out a Yugoslav, a Hungarian, a German, a Uruguayan, an Iranian and two Russians. On their books that sea­son they also had a Ghanaian, a Cameroonian, another German, an­other Hungarian, a Slovak, a Belgian and a Pole, while Rangers also had a Pole of their own, an Ulsterman, a Frenchman, a Russian, a Finn, a Jam­aican, an American, another Dane, two Aus­tralians, two Germans and yet another Dutchman. Phew.

No need to add much else, really. It’s all there in a list, a graphic illustration of the way club football has been going for some time. What conclusions you can come to is another matter. We can all recite the line about all those foreigners forcing out young local tal­ent. We can nod sagely at a Scotland team drawing 2-2 in the Faroes after having to pick people who weren’t first choices at their clubs, only two of them from Ran­gers. But this doesn’t com­pletely explain things. Turkey did all right in the last World Cup even though their big clubs have their quota of over­seas signings. The Galatasaray squad that beat Ran­gers, for example, included two Romanians and four Brazilians.

So when we hear Alan Hansen telling us kids don’t kick balls in Glasgow parks any more, we think that’s as likely an ex­planation as any. Which means what? All these foreign imports are brought in because the local produce isn’t what it was? Well, how else do you excuse Gra­eme Souness bringing Mark Falco and Kevin Drinkell to Rangers?

Scotland and Austria didn’t have this problem in the past, having experienced quite similar football histories – their links go back 70 years and more. Hugo Meisl, the central figure in Austrian football between the wars, admired British football so much he brought in Jimmy Hogan to coach the national team, and above all got them to play the kind of short-passing game pioneered by Scotland teams accustomed to thrashing English six-footers with mous­taches to match. Aus­tria’s 5-0 win over Scotland in 1931 was a kind of graduation day.

So we’ve got two countries of similar size, playing grudge matches against bigger neighbours who once occupied them by force, and producing a stream of world-class players out of all proportion to their pop­ulations. No need to import from abroad if you’re producing the Wunderteam or midgets like Alan Mor­ton and Alex James, who were among the most fantastic players of all time. Austria’s short-passing game survived until a 6-1 defeat in the 1954 World Cup semi-final (by West Germany, no less) – and Scotland continued to prod­uce enough of the slim and the skilful (Baxter, Law, John White, Jimmy Johnstone) to make people wonder why they couldn’t reach World Cup finals in the Sixties.

None of that now. It’s been fascinating and a bit wistful to watch the decline of countries like this (Hun­gary being another painful example). Scotland and Austria had a kind of last gasp at the 1978 World Cup, one with a bittersweet win over Holland, the other beating Germany for the first time since 1931. Austria had Hans Krankl to score goals, Scotland their last good squad. Neither of them won a match at France 98 or reached the finals this year. Nor do they offer much op­timism for the future.

Then again, that may be a future in which national teams don’t matter much any more. Football fans have always been more keen on their clubs, and have never really cared where their clubs’ players came from. So if it takes an as­sortment of Frenchmen, Dutchmen, Swedes, Brazilians and Cameroonians to win you the Double, you’re not going to pine for the days of Peter Storey and John Radford.

Oh well, if some of us are always go­ing to be looking back from now on, we can live with it. At least you get to read about national teams with Ernst Ocwirk and Hughie Gal­lacher, rather than Christian Mayrleb and Stephen Crawford.

From WSC 189 November 2002. What was happening this month