Oakwell to Austria, Barnsley winning new fans

THE hills are alive with the sound of Barnsley.

Michael Sollbauer of Barnsley celebrates victory at Brentford last season. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Austria – the land of the Edelweiss and immortalised in The Sound of Music – has been taking note of the happenings far away at Oakwell, with the achievements of the club’s Austrian contingent ensuring that the Reds can count on growing levels of international support among football lovers in the Alpine nation.

That much was evident to central defender Michael Sollbauer during the club’s dramatic end to the elongated 2019-20 campaign when their thrilling escape from relegation proved one of the stories of a typically tumultuous Championship season.

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Barnsley’s Austrian brigade of Sollbauer, Patrick Schmidt, Marcel Ritzmaier and head coach Gerhard Struber has since been augmented by the addition of close-season signing Dominik Frieser and a new coach in Wolfgang Luisser – although goalkeeper Sami Radlinger has departed.

On support from back home, Sollbauer told The Yorkshire Post: “In Austria, a lot of people recognised the situation with Barnsley, especially in the last two games when I got a lot of messages saying: ‘it will be hard, but you still have a chance’.

“A lot of my former team-mates and old friends were rooting for us and tried to watch it on TV.

“After these games, I got a lot of messages and calls and it was great to see that we also had a lot of supporters out of England.

“Barnsley have a lot of new friends who will try to watch us in the new season and are looking forward to it and will follow us.

“What happened at the end of last season is one of the special highlights in my career so far.

“I said that staying up with Barnsley would be one of my biggest achievements and it will always be in my mind and I will never forget it – especially the two last games and winning in the last seconds to stay up.

“It was very special and felt like when you get promoted. It (Brentford) was a big night for the club as we worked so hard together to achieve this and we always believed in us no matter what everyone else did.”

Frieser adds an intriguing attacking midfield option to the Reds ranks and having previously played with him in the Austrian Bundesliga at Wolfsberger, Sollbauer can vouch for his credentials and believes that he fits perfectly into Barnsley’s high-energy pressing style.

He added: “I played together with him and we worked together. I know his style of play and him as a person.

“I think he will fit perfectly in our system. He knows how to press especially and last season, he scored when we played against him, but I don’t think he scored (directly) against me!

“He is a perfect fit in our system, team and group as he’s open-minded. He is a good signing.”

Frieser’s arrival is not the only key piece of recruitment in the close season with the loan return of Kilian Ludewig – who won many admirers during his first spell at the club in the second half of last term – also significant.

The defender, a dynamic presence in a right-sided wing-back role and a player of huge potential, rebuffed interest in his native Germany to return to Oakwell when Red Bull Salzburg decided to loan him out again in 2020-21.

Ludewig, who has embraced his time on and off the pitch in Yorkshire, could not be happier.

He said: “After staying up and the achievement, I was looking forward to staying at Barnsley.

“I had an option to go on loan in the second league in Germany, but I wanted to play at Barnsley.

“My family and friends are happy I am back here and are looking forward to the new season.

“It has been a special time in a new country with a new mentality and new people. I have lived very well here and I am happy to have the Austrians here who can speak in German.

“After the Corona, I played nearly all the games and we achieved something as a team.”

Ludewig is one of a number of young players to benefit from the presence of Sollbauer, a figure who exudes calmness and authority on and off the pitch.

For his part, the 30-year-old is full of admiration for Barnsley’s ‘kindergarten’ class and says their story has only just begun.

“Killy is a perfect example of especially young players in the team growing and taking a huge step,” Sollbauer observed.

“When he (first) came into the team, he was a different person to now and has taken a huge step – a lot of players have and now we have to move on.

“I enjoy to see how they develop and we have to recognise that they are young and what they did was really good.

“But we have no time to stop and they must also take the next step.”

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Thank you

James Mitchinson