Whilst “Barnsberger AC”, as the Austrians jokingly call the Reds, are becoming well known in a country whose league has supplied its last three managers and players Michael Sollbauer and Dominik Frieser, 47-year-old Schopp is an unknown quantity in South Yorkshire.
The former midfielder who learnt his trade with Sturm Graz’s second team is a counter-attacker by nature with a fondness for “sweeper-keepers” and back fours who gets close to his players off the field. He is regarded as one of the brightest managerial prospects in Austria after taking small village club Hartberg from the second division into the Europa League qualifiers, says Football Radar’s Austrian league analyst Anna Konovalova.
Last summer Schopp was a popular choice for Austria’s manager of the season award which instead went to Jesse Marsch. Marsch’s work with Red Bull Salzburg earned a move to their bigger brother Leipzig, whilst Schopp’s caught the eye of another from the Red Bull factory, Ralf Rangnick, who had apparently earmarked him for a role had AC Milan gone through with their plan to make him their coach and sporting director.
On Schopp’s style of play, Konovalova says: “He has developed a lot during his stint at Hartberg. He took over a club that had a very weak squad, with some players remaining from the (third-tier) Regionalliga , went through months and months of frantically changing tactics and formations, and ended with a well-established squad with a recognisable style and several trademark tricks that other clubs try to copy.
“Schopp’s style relies on playing from the back and fast counter-attacks - a team that follows rather than leads in the game.”
Not that his tricks have always paid off.
“Hartberg’s goalkeeper basically acted as an 11th outfield player – none of the goalkeepers in the league had even half of the number of completed passes Hartberg’s had,” points out Konovalova.
“In 2019-20 he created a tilting defensive line that transformed from a back four to a back three with full-backs becoming centre-backs at different times. It worked in certain matches and was deemed one of the most interesting tactical solutions in the league that season with some teams trying to mimic it, but it ended with Hartberg conceding 74 goals in 32 matches. This experiment, despite being revolutionary for the league, was predictably abandoned.”
Like the men who head-hunted him, Schopp is a big fan of analytics, having worked as an anlyst/assistant coach at previous club St Polten.
“It allows him to sit down with a cool head and analyse the data and how it went, what went wrong and what needs to be changed,” says Konovalova. “Almost always his conclusions push the team further in their development, as individual players, as a collective and Schopp as a manager who is still learning.”
Where Valerien Ismael and his Austrian predecessor Gerhard Struber were fans of three centre-back systems, the basis of Schopp’s Hartberg teams has been variations of four defenders and one central striker.
“Last season Hartberg played with a mid-to-low defensive block and fast, creative counter-attacks with lots of well-drilled team-work,” explains Konovalova. “Clever set-pieces were also were a major strength, both due to some special coaching methods developed by Schopp, and targeted signings.”
Yoga is part of his training methods, with Schopp’s wife Lisa a trained instructor.
If Ismael came across as stern and demanding but popular, Konovalova says many of Schopp’s Hartberg players are “close friends to the point of often going on holidays together”.
For all that Barnsley’s brains trust work to a very clear idea of what they are looking for, it is obvious Schopp is no Ismael clone.