Ralph Hasenhàttl, 52, dressed in a grey tracksuit, sits in his office at The Southampton FC training ground. For a little over a year, his life has been set here in the isolation of the Staplewood campus.
The coach arrives early in the morning and stays until late in the evening. He will immediately hand out Christmas presents to club employees, he said. His team is struggling with relegation for the second year in a row, with Southampton meeting Chelsea (4pm) the day after boxing, the traditional Premier League match day on December 26. TV: In the conference on Sky).
Mirror: Mr Hasenhàttl, do you regret moving to Southampton?
Hasenhàttl: Not at all. I knew what I was getting myself into.
Mirror: They traded the Bundesliga league battle for the relegation battle Of League. Only five league wins have been achieved so far this season.
Hasenhàttl: Of course, it’s better if you win more often. But it’s even more fun to be able to work in probably the strongest league in the world and be involved in the development of a club. It’s a prize for having a chance in the Premier League. I knew I’d take it when he came.
Mirror: What makes the league so interesting?
Hasenhàttl: Football is very important in England – and is a melting pot of different football traditions. There are many types of trainers and approaches here. When you play against Manchester City with Pep Guardiola, you have 20 per cent possession of the ball. Against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, it is clear: if you lose the ball, the post goes out. Other teams stand up to you at the back. Each opponent plays differently – but always at the highest level.
Mirror: In Germany, this was not the case?
Hasenhàttl: A lot of coaches have focused on being well organized against the ball. Especially with smaller clubs, you can score against bigger teams. That is what we did in Ingolstadt. But the Bundesliga has rarely been as balanced as it has been this year.
Ralph Hasenhàttl, born in 1967, is the first Austrian head coach in the history of the Premier League. When he started at Southampton in December 2018, the club was second to last with nine points in 15 games; Hasenhàttl managed to maintain class with the team. He began his coaching career at Unterhaching, later he led Aalen from third to second league and Ingolstadt to the Bundesliga. With RB Leipzig, he was runner-up in 2017.
Mirror: Which coaches in England impress you the most?
Hasenhàttl: Guardiola and Klopp have set the benchmark, that’s how it is.
Mirror: Klopp has been at Liverpool for more than four years, but it is only in the last two years that he has made the leap from a very good team to a world-class team. What for?
Hasenhàttl: Juergen took the time to change teams. Time – and the money needed. Obviously, he knew exactly where the team was and he fixed them in a targeted way.
Mirror: What is it like to play against Liverpool?
Hasenhàttl: There is often the impression that they are also vulnerable. But in the end, they still win because they can increase tremendously, especially towards the end of the game. And the three up there (Liverpool striker Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah) are second to none.
Mirror: They’ve been in Southampton for about a year. What’s been your best moment since?
Hasenhàttl: I remember well the first win, a 3-2 win over Arsenal. It was very important because we realized that we could also win against a top-six team. From that moment on, the team began to believe in itself again. But more importantly, and it certainly seems a little weird now, was our reaction to the game against Leicester.
Mirror: Southampton’s 0-9 draw with Leicester City in Round 10 was the biggest defeat in Premier League history.
Hasenhàttl: We were bottomless. But this, and how we found our way back on our way after that, was one of the most important experiences of my career.
Mirror: What do you say to a team that just lost 0-9?
Hasenhàttl: The truth. That from now on we must live with this stain. We will not get rid of the 0:9, we will probably always remember it. And that it will depend on how we react. It was about restoring confidence to the team itself. We then had to play twice against Manchester City, one of the best teams in the world. It could have gone wrong. We lost twice, but in the second game we almost won something (1:3 in the League Cup, 1:2 in the Premier League; Note. Red.). Shortly after the international break, we came back with seven points in three games.
Mirror: Did you doubt yourself after 0:9?
Hasenhàttl: Who wouldn’t do that? We all failed. But as a coach, you have to be the first to find the direction. It was impressive to see how the club stood together afterwards. We have kept the belief that we will get the class this season.
Mirror: Expectations were different. In the “Kicker” you talked about a one-digit table top before the season. Are you afraid of your job?
Hasenhàttl: If you survive a 0:9, you lose all fears. Fun aside: The support so far has shown me that the club is realistic about our situation.
Mirror: In the past, you have left stronger opponents behind with losing teams because you have been better tactically. Why can’t this be done in England?
Hasenhàttl: Because it’s a difference to work in the second or third division in Germany or the Premier League. In Aalen and Ingolstadt we kept the class the first year, after we were able to change the teams with relatively little money. In the Premier League you need a lot more funding and even then there is no guarantee.
Mirror: At Southampton, you have been at Southampton for a little over a year.
Hasenhàttl: I’d also like it to be faster. But after good periods, there were always setbacks. The problem in the Premier League is that the quality of the opposing players is so great. Sometimes you only need one or two chances to show you the weaknesses. Even with good organization and a perfect race, you can lose games in this league. That’s why we have to be patient.
Mirror: Team development is one thing. What about yours? Where does coach Ralph Hasenhàttl want to go?
Hasenhàttl: I want to have a system that doesn’t specialize in a phase of the game. Think of Liverpool. Juergen realized at one point that the phases of ball possession are essential to his game. In modern football, you can’t go far with a single shot. All the big teams can do anything.
Mirror: Do you have an example?
Hasenhàttl: Take Manchester City. There is often a misconception that the team convinces with the ball. City are superbly organized in the game against the ball. The quality of their counter-pressure, the speed with which they recover the balls and the height of their residual defense, is often not noticeable.
Mirror: At the beginning of 2018, you were considered a candidate for the coaching position at FC Bayern, but you said that you were not yet ready for it. So much restraint is unusual in your business.
Hasenhàttl: I am absolutely in a state of standing by what I said at the time. Fc Bayern is something of a chivalry for all coaches in Germany. But it only makes sense if it is probably the last stage of its own development. After that, there can’t really be much more to come after that. Apart from that, the question is whether FC Bayern is really a desirable goal for a coach.
Mirror: You have to explain that.
Hasenhàttl: What does a Bayern coach have to gain before getting the recognition he deserves? Double that? Niko Kovac has just experienced that this is not enough. The Champions League? Is that enough for people to say, “But he’s doing a good job”? And does he have time to developper things?
Mirror: Guardiola knows something similar in Manchester. Despite two championships with 100 and 98 points, critics accuse him of having failed in the Champions League.
Hasenhàttl: This is the case for the best absolute teams. Successes are self-evidentI.failures of a disaster. Each coach must decide for himself whether he can live with it or if he wants to go in a different way.
Mirror: Isn’t professional football a matter of victories and trophies?
Hasenhàttl: Always win, to trophies not necessarily. For me personally, last year’s class with Southampton was a title. An ambitious trainer can also set other goals and find great pleasure in so-called small development stages.
Mirror: If you think back to the day of your signing – what advice would you give yourself?
Hasenhàttl: The most exciting moment of your coaching career to date awaits you. Have a good time.