With the new season only days away, I decided to take a look at what each side has been up to this off-season and list who I think has been their best signing. I’ve picked players based upon who I think could have the biggest ‘positive’ impact on the side, although I realise this won’t always be the ‘best’ new player who has been brought in!
FC Admira Wacker
Dominik Starkl (left) alongside Admira manager Oliver Lederer (picture courtesy of admirawacker.at)
Starkl joined Admira on a season-long loan with an option to buy from Rapid Wien. The 21-year old, who is known for his wing-play and dribbling abilities, can also play in attack, but this tends to be as a deep-lying forward or as a false-9. Starkl struggled to adapt from the Rapid II’s to the Rapid senior squad – he scored 27 goals and assisted 8 times in his 66 appearances for the II’s, but this has translated to a measly 3 goals and 7 assists for Rapid Wien in 47 appearances. However, it is clear he has talent in abundance, with 18 goals in 19 appearances for Sankt Pölten’s U-18 side, before he was snapped up by the Wien club. For Austria he has played for the U-18s, U-19’s and has 5 caps for the U-21’s and a strong year in Admira could put him back in the international frame. For a team that only scored 32 times last season though, big things are expected of Starkl in 15/16.
FK Austria Wien
Ognjen Vukojević appearing on Viola TV after recently joining the club (picture courtesy of fk-austria.at/youtube)
31-year old Ognjen Vukojević joined Austria Wien on a 2-year deal with an option of a further year from Dynamo Kiev. The defensive midfielder had been on loan at Dinamo Zagreb for the 14/15 season, a team he had signed for in 2006 from Belgian side Lierse SK. An international veteran with 54 caps (4 goals) for the Croatian team, Vukojević will more than fill the gap of the outgoing Australian midfielder, James Holland. Austria Wien were once again disappointing in the league, finishing 7th with a goal difference of -6, so it is hoped that Vukojević, with his experience, will be able to shore up the Violets in midfield. In the 14/15 season, he struggled to cement a starting place at Zagreb, but he did captain the side on occasions. Alongside other arrivals such as Richard Windbichler, this is exactly what this under-performing club needed.
Christian Derflinger (left) poses beside Grödig manager Christian Haas (picture courtesy of sv-groedig.at)
Derflinger joined a depleted Grödig side on a free from Hamburg II’s. The 21-year old Austrian who started his career with LASK/Pasching was snapped up by FC Bayern in 2008 but never made it out of their youth sides. In the 14/15 season, following a move to Hamburg, Derflinger made 27 Regionalliga Nord appearances scoring twice and assisting 3 times. Despite not representing any Austrian international sides since 2012, 2015 marked a breakthrough year for the attacking midfielder on the international stage, as he made 2 appearances for the Austrian U21’s, scoring and assisting on debut against Bulgaria. 15/16 should bring Derflinger plenty of opportunities and during pre-season he has already established himself as a key player for Peter Schöttel’s side. With Venuto on the left and Derflinger on the right, his arrival will not only revive the career of veteran striker Roman Wallner, but it could go some-way in filling the massive hole left by the likes of Philipp Huspek and Stefan Nutz.
Grgic in action during his time with SV Kapfenberg (picture courtesy of laola1.at)
Mario Grgic, now 23-years old, joined Mattersburg on a free from SV Kapfenberg, whom he played for over 100 times, scoring 11 times and assisting 21 times from central midfield. Despite never earning a cap for Austria at any level, he established himself as a key player at the club, particularly in his final season with the Hawks, scoring 4 and assisting 9 times, helping them finish in very respectable fourth place behind only Liefering, LASK and his new club. Grgic may struggle to establish himself in the starting XI under Ivica Vastic this season, given how strong the side appear to be in the centre, with Prietl and Sprangler already vying to start alongside the omnipresent Jano. But Grgic is improving year and year and will be hoping to help Mattersburg replicate the third placed finish achieved by newly promoted Altach last season.
SK Rapid Wien
Nutz (left) alongside other new Rapid Wien signings (picture courtesy of APA/Herbert P. Oczeret)
Rapid fought off plenty of foreign competition in order to secure the signature of 23-year old Stefan Nutz from SV Grödig. Following the departure of top-scorer Yordy Reyna to RB Leipzig, it was Nutz who took the reigns, steering his side to eventual safety, after a 6-game losing streak in early spring. The central midfielder, who joined Grödig from Grazer AK in 2012, scored 6 goals and assisted an impressive 12 times in his 33 Bundesliga appearances in 14/15. In particular, Nutz is a midfielder who is just as dangerous from open play as he is from a set-pieces, with his free-kick ability arguably only second in the league to Jonathan Soriano’s, although Steffen Hofmann may not agree! With the ageing Hofmann unable to play as regularly as he used to, Grahovac, Schwab and Schaub are all fighting to get as much game time as possible in midfield, ensuring Nutz will have to continue impress in order to stand-out to coach Zoran Barisic.
SC Rheindorf Altach
Hofbauer in action against his new side for Wiener Neustadt last season (picture courtesy of GEPA pictures)
Hofbauer has proven himself to be a very good Bundesliga player after joining Neustadt last season from Sankt Pölten. Despite being relegated with Neustadt, his performances earned him a 2-year contract with Altach, who are set to battle Vitoria (Portugal) in the Europa League next week. Hofbauer is a live wire in midfield and has shown his versatility, contributing with both goals and assists from various positions. The former Aston Villa U-21 player will be expected to soften the blow for Altach after the loss of Ismael Tajouri (4 goals and 6 assists) to Austria Wien at the end of last season. If all goes well, Hofbauer will be hoping to guide Altach to back-to-back European qualification campaigns.
Schubert in action as a trialist for Ried (picture courtesy of laola1.at)
Fabian Schubert joined Ried on trial this summer from BST Völkermarkt before signing a 1-year contract with an option of a further two years. The 20-year old striker showed lethal form throughout the 14/15 season scoring 25 goals in 27 games in the Kärtner Liga, giving him a final record with the club of 56 goals in 102 appearances. Since his arrival at Ried, he has contributed with goals, albeit generally against lower opposition and at the weekend scored once and assisted twice in Ried’s 15:0 win in the Samsung Cup 1st round. Although Schubert is unlikely to be a starter under Kolvidsson, he has very little to lose and everyone will be hoping he can prove himself at the top-level in Austria.
Red Bull Salzburg
Yabo speaks to journalists at a Salzburg press conference (picture courtesy of skysportaustria.at)
Yabo joined Salzburg on a 3-year deal from Karlsruher despite heavy speculation he would make his way to a German Bundesliga side. The central midfielder has proved to be a mainstay for Karlsruher over the past two seasons, contributing 7 goals and 5 assists in this time and despite only turning 23 in February, he is expected to bring some much-needed experience to a young Red Bull side. Yabo has shone throughout his career earning over 50 caps for Germany up into U-20 level and he now has the opportunity to help Salzburg to a potential third title win in a row. More importantly, new coach Peter Zeidler will be hoping Yabo can push Salzburg into the all-important Champions League group stages. Despite his potential, a re-occurring knee injury has disrupted his pre-season with the side, however, injuries aside he should become a key cog in the Red Bull machine.
SK Sturm Graz
Esser (centre right) with other new Sturm signings (picture courtesy of GEPA)
Michael Esser’s arrival at Sturm Graz, was one of the biggest coups of the off-season. During his time at VfL Bochum, Esser had established himself as a top keeper at 2.Bundesliga level, pushing Andreas Luthe all the way for a starting spot. Despite Christian Gratzei providing some solid performances in spring, the 33-year old was not the long-term solution with the Blackies aim to be pushing for Europa League qualification every season. With Benedikt Pliquett also leaving the club, the only other goalkeeping alternative was 18-year old Tobias Schützenauer. Thus, the arrival of Esser has been greeted gleefully by the club, whom he signed for on the basis he would be the number one goalkeeper. I expect he will be a success and he should contribute heavily as Sturm push for a top-2 finish in 15/16.
Philipp Hellquist trains with his new side during their pre-season (picture courtesy of GEPA pictures/Daniel Goetzhaber)
Similarly to Dominik Hofbauer, Philipp Hellquist joined Wiener Neustadt in the spring last season and despite getting relegated, did enough to impress other clubs in the league. Wolfsberger AC signed Hellquist on a 2-year deal after the former Sweden U-21 striker scored 4 times in 12 games, in what was a struggling Neustadt side. During his time in Austria, Hellquist has shown his predatory skills, including his eye for goal from set-pieces and his ability to finish with finesse, something he has already shown Wolfsberger fans after a fantastic finish against Schalke in a recent friendly. With the Wolves scoring the third fewest goals in the league last season, behind only Admira and Neustadt, Dietmar Kühbauer will be hoping that Hellquist will contribute not only in the league but also in their quest to qualify for the Europa League group stages (although this maybe asking a lot as they will face Dortmund in the next round if they beat Shakhtyor Soligorsk!).
My 15/16 prediction:
1. Red Bull Salzburg (Top scorer: Jonathan Soriano)
2. SK Rapid Wien (Top scorer: Robert Berić)
3. FK Austria Wien (Top scorer: Alexander Gorgon)
4. SK Sturm Graz (Top scorer: Donis Avdijaj)
5. Wolfsberger AC (Top scorer: Philipp Hellquist)
6. SC Rheindorf Altach (Top scorer: Martin Harrer)
7. SV Mattersburg (Top scorer: Markus Pink )
8. SV Ried (Top scorer: Clemens Walch )
9. SV Grödig (Top scorer: Benjamin Sulimani)
10. FC Admira Wacker (Top scorer: Dominik Starkl)
GEPA pictures/ Christian Walgram
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment as always.