Blackburn Rovers v Barnsley: Hearts and minds job facing Gerhard Struber

AFTER professing to follow the fortunes of Arsenal from afar when his good friend Alex Manninger was there, it is very much the red and white of Barnsley which is now stirring the footballing soul of Gerhard Struber.

The 42-year-old’s excitement at his work taking him to the country which all continentals acknowledge to be, in his words, ‘the mother of football’ was self-evident at his unveiling. Now comes the hard part.

But for the time being there is a discernible swell of pride, with today’s date at Ewood Park representing a landmark moment in his professional career.

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After injury scuppered hopes of donning his boots for Austria Under-21s in a game in England when he was operating as a combative midfielder for SV Austria Salzburg, head coach Struber will now finally experience the cut and thrust of an English football occasion close up.

In charge: Gerhard Struber, right, and Matt Rose.In charge: Gerhard Struber, right, and Matt Rose.
In charge: Gerhard Struber, right, and Matt Rose.

A dark and dank East Lancashire afternoon will feel as warm as sunshine as he steps out just before kick-off ahead of what he hopes to be a long dug-out adventure in England.

Struber said: “I was called up for the Austrian Under-21s squad once, but then I got injured and could not come to the game in England for the game.

“I went to Wembley for an England v Portugal friendly once. The atmosphere here is special.

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“A friend of mine is Alexander Manninger and we played at Salzburg in the youth team together and he had a good time – a long time – with Arsenal. He was a very big goalkeeper.

“I used to look at the games of Arsenal.

“Now I am at Barnsley and I feel good and it is a special feeling. I have worked my whole life in Austria and this is my first chance to go out and work in another land. I will enjoy this chance.”

As with another of Austrian-born manager who headed to in England late last year in Southampton chief Ralph Hasenhuttl, Struber has been handed a similarly demanding survival brief to steer a struggling club away from choppy relegation waters.

If he can follow in the footsteps of his compatriot, no-one will be complaining at Oakwell.

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Previously labelled as ‘the Klopp of the Alps’, Hasenhuttl took over a listing Saints side who were languishing in 18th spot when he took over from Mark Hughes almost 12 months ago.

He quickly instilled belief and fight into a confidence-sapped bunch of players to re-energise the club’s campaign, staving off the drop and playing some high intensity, attacking football along the way.

Intense ‘mind-blowing’ video analysis, in the words of Hasenhuttl, formed part of the package, with Struber’s players having already seen a fair bit of the video room since his arrival.

But understanding and getting to know the individual, as opposed to purely focusing on the tactical and the technical aspects of football, will be as equally important in the days and weeks ahead. If not more so.

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Struber observed: “An important thing now and the next days is that I speak with every player and see what personality and aims they have. I will learn the human behind the player and this is the most important thing.

“The attitude is a big brand of the team and there is a big heart. We need a balance with this big heart and a good mind.”

The former Wolfsberger AC head coach’s experience of English football may officially begin today, but the presence of former Arsenal European academy coach Matt Rose, a seasoned second-tier regular in a long playing association with QPR, will represent a handy sounding board for the Austrian.

Rose, 44, who played nearly 300 games for Rangers, said: “Part of the reason that Gerhard brought me in was for my experience playing in the Championship and being English. I am very aware of the leagues.

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“We have spoken about how it is almost a ‘Premier League Two’ now with lots of money in the league and some good styles of football and good players.

“The speed and explosiveness is big compared to Europe and I have been able to coach in some of these countries and the speed and strength in England is different. He (Struber) is aware.

“I have been seeing him for a few years now. Where I coached, in that side of Europe, you end up with the same contacts and same people that you are introduced to.”