It is now three months since Marcel Koller was appointed Austria head coach. The 51-year-old took the reins from Dietmar Constantini, with the brief of leading the nation lying 71st in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ finals. And the former Switzerland international - by his own admission a “passionate player” in his time - is a firm believer in action rather than reaction.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, the man who was named Swiss coach of the Year in 1999, and whose list of former clubs includes FC Wil, FC St. Gallen and Grasshoppers Zurich in his home country, and Cologne and Bochum in Germany, discussed his plans, hopes and targets with his new charges.
FIFA.com: Marcel, what inspires you most about your new job?
Marcel Koller: I officially took up the post on 1 November, but in reality I actually started work straight after the appointment was announced in early October, and I set up my office at Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna on 18 October. I regard this job as an incredible challenge, and also something completely new, as I've only ever coached clubs up to now. Here in Austria, we have a young team with lots of potential, and a number of my players are already making a name for themselves in the German Bundesliga.
In mid-November, you sat in the dugout for the first time when Austria played Ukraine in a friendly.
I was really looking forward to it, as the preparations for the match and for my new job were very intense and extensive. I had to assemble a new coaching staff, and I'm now working with a genuinely fantastic team, with members from abroad as well. In terms of the players, our first seven days together were marked by productive work, and I was extremely satisfied with the attitude of the whole team. Obviously, you can't implement all your ideas in such a short time. But by and large, it was very satisfactory, apart from the result in Lviv. As for the game itself, the team put into practice a number of the things we worked on in training and spoke about in our team talks. We were away from home and playing in front of a noisy crowd, but we put our opponents under pressure and controlled them for most of the match, and we made plenty of chances. Obviously, the negative aspect was conceding the decisive goal just before the end when we were a man up, which meant we lost 2-1.
We're not just along for the ride. We'll see if we can remain in contention for one of the first two places right to the end.
Your appointment initially unleashed a storm of criticism. How did you cope with that?
It's part of the job, and I was relaxed about it. Obviously, I'd have preferred the various critics to have focused on my work, but I've taken up my new position with no preconceptions, and I've approached my critics with a positive attitude. But in public, and in the media too, I've detected a much more positive mood for several weeks now.
In qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Austria are grouped with Germany, Sweden, Republic of Ireland, the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan. What’s your take on the group?
We were drawn from pot four, and we've been grouped with three UEFA EURO 2012 participants. We're definitely not favourites for one of the top two places in the group. As everyone knows, Germany are one of the top three in the world at the moment, and both Sweden and Ireland showed plenty of class in qualifying for the EURO. But for all that, we're not just along for the ride. We'll see if we can remain in contention for one of the first two places right to the end. Obviously, our dream is to qualify, and we’ll give everything to that end.
What’s your opinion of the status and development of football in Austria in recent years?
The simple fact that more and more Austrians are playing abroad nowadays proves there's been some good work recently. Our league is very competitive, and in recent years, we've always had between two and four clubs in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League. At the EURO on home soil in 2008, the team gave a really good account of themselves, but went unrewarded and were unfortunately unable to win. More recently, it hasn't gone so well for the senior national team, which is one of the reasons I've now been offered the chance to work as Austria head coach.
The Austrian U-20 team qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2011 in Colombia. The previous highlight was fourth place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2007 in Canada. How happy are you with Austria's youth development programme?
I've already paid a visit to Austria Vienna's youth academy, where I saw the extremely professional set-up for myself. Austrian youth teams have regularly qualified for European championships and World Cups over the last decade, which wouldn't have been possible without a high standard of youth development.
How important is promoting young talent to you?
It's obviously very important, because the basis for a good career is laid down in the early years. In this respect, the Austrian FA took a very important step in the right direction a few years ago with its Project12 youth development programme.
What kind of football do you want your team to play?
In an ideal world, your team seizes the initiative at all times and is never in a position where all you can do is react. It’s never possible for an entire match of course, but the more you keep the game under control by retaining possession, the better it is. I want my players to take a risk or two, especially when we're attacking, although I do expect them to show determination and focus throughout a match.
What do you like most about working in professional football?
Even when I was just a young lad, football was my biggest passion. And what could be finer than turning your hobby into a job? I was a passionate player, and even during my playing days I'd decided I wanted to go into coaching. Up to now, I can be very satisfied with how it's gone.