Fiver readers of a certain age will have fond recollections of the legend that is Toni Polster. With his keen eye for goal and smouldering 1980s American high-school yearbook good looks, in his mid-90s pomp the Austrian striker was the proud owner of one of world football’s finest bubble-perm-mullet hairstyles. The poster boy of an Austrian team who helped make up the numbers at the 1990 and 1998 World Cups, he scored 44 goals in 95 appearances for “Das Team” and it was largely his existence which meant his compatriot and fellow forward, Ralph Hasenhüttl, made just eight appearances for his country.
Having spent so long in the long and wide shadow cast by Polster’s luxuriant mane, Hasenhüttl set about establishing himself on the global stage, earning his managerial stripes at assorted low-level German clubs: SpVgg Unterhaching, VfR Aalen and FC Ingolstadt 04. A two-year stint at newly promoted Bundesliga side RB Leipzig followed, but it was only after his departure that Hasenhüttl truly made his name. Unveiled as a left-field managerial appointment by Southampton, the man who had spent much of his career in football playing second fiddle to a far bigger name had finally arrived … only to find himself labelled “the Alpine Jürgen Klopp”.
On Monday night in the biting early January cold of Saint Mary’s Stadium, the “Alpine Klopp” will get the opportunity to put one over on his less mountainous counterpart, as Southampton entertain Liverpool in the final game of what has seemed a particularly gruelling festive Premier League schedule. While Liverpool may travel down south as Premier League leaders, they go into this game in what by their own lofty standards is a dreadful run of form, having failed to beat teams as bad as Newcastle and West Brom in their past two matches.
Coming up against hosts whose form has been similarly indifferent since their manager was flagged up as a potential successor to Mikel Arteta at Arsenal, Klopp’s side will relish the opportunity to put a stop to the yammering of people who keep erroneously insisting Manchester United are “joint top” of the league by opening up a three-point gap. Having missed his side’s most recent game after being forced to self-isolate, Hasenhüttl is free to return to his technical area. There, he will stand alongside the man to whom he has been long been compared, attempting to show how different he is as he gesticulates furiously, barks orders and occasionally swears in German from underneath his official club baseball cap.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I spent time with families and it was clear they were as reliant on the food vouchers [for school meals] as the food banks. It wasn’t one or the other. They needed both to survive. I knew what that fear felt like. I knew what fear in my mum looked like. I didn’t want that for any child or any parent” – Marcus Rashford, the Guardian’s Footballer of the Year, on the conversations that inspired his extraordinary campaign.
REALITY CHECK OF THE DAY
14 May 2016: “We have this massive problem of producing our own players in this country … it’s probably why we should vote out of the EU! If we can vote out then we won’t have to take Uefa law because that is crap” – Sam Allardyce, then Sunderland manager.
4 January 2021: ”I have found three players already who were capable of coming here and they’re not allowed. It’s a shame. It’s not so much the pandemic, it’s the change of rules because of Brexit” – Allardyce struggles to find foreign imports for West Brom.
The latest edition of Football Weekly has just dropped like it’s hot, with Max and Barry joined by your Ronays, your Murrays, your Brewins.
“In spite of everything that has happened to the world in the past year, the most staggering thing I have read is ‘I am an Arsenal fan. I’ve lived in New York for 25 years and still have my season ticket’. The poor guy. There surely must be some sort of help available for such people” – Noble Francis.
“No team can succeed playing like we do. I’m ashamed of supporting Spurs right now. Even if Mourinho’s tactics lead to whatever trophy, certainly the pain that comes along for the fans is not worth it” – Marcio Aquino, moments after Wolves’ equaliser.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Joey Barton has bowled through the door marked Do One at Fleetwood Town. “We would like to thank Joey for his work during his time [here] and wish him success in the future,” a club statement breezed.
Jamie Carragher has stepped in to sponsor non-league Marine for their FA Cup third-round tie against Tottenham. The Sky pundit’s JC23 Foundation will sponsor the warm-up kits and dugouts at the Marine Travel Arena.
Dele Alli might have an eye on a rendezvous with Mauricio Pochettino at PSG, but José Mourinho has other ideas, with the player unlikely to be leaving in January.
Former Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher has joined the club’s first-team coaching staff. “Darren has the United DNA running through his veins,” droned Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
Rio Ferdinand revealed he played for West Ham at Arsenal in 1996 having just refreshed himself in the players’ lounge after an unexpected last-minute call. “I was on the bench thinking, ‘Please don’t let me come on, three brandy and Cokes, I can’t come on this pitch,’” he yelped. Spoiler: he came on.
Nice are going to borrow £27m William Saliba off Arsenal for the rest of the season to see if they can jump-start the sputtering defender’s career again.
And Hibs may have to start with goalkeeping coach Craig Samson, 87, in goal at Celtic after QPR recalled Dillon Barnes and Ofir Marciano suffered hamstring-twang.
STILL WANT MORE?
Start the new year with an old favourite. Ten talking points from the weekend’s action in the Premier League.
Look out Lamps, warns floating football brain in a jar Jonathan Wilson, because no Chelsea manager has ever survived with a win percentage as low as FLCMFL’s.
José Mourinho can smell silverware at Tottenham Hotspur, writes David Hytner.
Bundesliga upstarts Union Berlin have a clear philosophy – and it’s taken them to giddy new heights, whoops Andy Brassell.
Here’s Sid Lowe on Gaizka Garitano, the Athletic Bilbao manager who pulled off so many job-saving wins, they sacked him anyway.
Mattia Zaccagni: the scissor-kicking midfielder who will probably be moving on to a bigger club than Verona soon. Nicky Bandini gives us her scouting report.
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