Big man Janko stands tall

Marc Janko stands 1.96 m (6 ft 5 in) in his socks, but sheer height is not the only reason the striker rates as the colossus of the Austrian Bundesliga at the moment. The Red Bull Salzburg hitman has a staggering 17 goals to his name in 15 matches for the league leaders, and there seems no end in sight to the 25-year-old’s scoring exploits. To put his achievement into context, team-mate Alexander Zickler finished as the country’s leading scorer last term with a total of 16 goals.

This Friday, the Bulls entertain Austria Vienna, who won the reverse fixture on 10 August this year 3-2. The men from Salzburg led 2-0 at one point, but the side from the capital fought back and snatched victory with a 93rd-minute winner.

Toast of the town
RBS bounced back from the bitter defeat with a run of seven wins, a draw and just one further reverse, thanks in no short measure to Janko. The 92 kg (203 lb) striker is a much-loved figure at the club, little wonder in the light of his stunning strike rate. He has also laid on four further goals for team-mates, while his three fellow forwards Zickler, Louis Ngwat Mahop and Robin Nelisse have between them amassed 12 goals and eight assists.

Janko, a modest personality by nature, has not forgotten that the goals can dry up as quickly as they came: "The team works really hard for me, and there’s no denying our quality nowadays. That’s something you have, or you don’t have. But it won’t always be like this. Strikers often suffer long periods of drought," he was quoted as saying recently by the Austria Presse Agentur (APA) news agency.

Delighted to be in Salzburg
Janko first signed professional forms with Admira Wacker, working his way up from the reserves to the first team between 2003 and 2005. Despite a haul of just two goals in 13 appearances, Red Bull Salzburg spotted his potential and secured his signature in summer 2005, “the greatest success of my career,” the player now says.

After a bumpy settling-in period, the man with the squad number 21 sealed a place in the starting line-up and fired 11 goals in 17 matches. However, just as life was looking up for the Austria international, a plague of injuries forced him to the sidelines for almost the whole of the 2006-7 campaign, which ended with Red Bull winning the league. "I’ve learnt the hard way what it feels like when your career’s reached rock bottom. That’s when you understand for the first time what a privilege it is to be doing your hobby as a job. Lots of people underestimate that. I’ve always loved this sport, but now I’m more conscious of what it means, and the experience is more intense." Janko reflects.

Back, and better
The long lay-off seems to have helped the Zinedine Zidane fan tap new reserves of strength and resolve. Perhaps Marc Janko needed to explore the depths before soaring to new and unparalleled heights. The son of Eva Janko, a javelin bronze medallist at the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games, has fought his way back and is currently head and shoulders above the rest in his native Austria.

Understandably, his new-found prowess has awakened lofty ambitions and dreams, as he freely admits. "I’ve always said England would be my dream destination. Football is regarded in a completely different way there. Basically, I think I’m ready for it. I’m the right age, and it would be a good next step in the not too distant future," he told APA, publicly toying with a switch to the Premier League.

Key man for Karel Bruckner
Janko also seems to have made the conclusive breakthrough with his national team. Omitted from the set-up in advance of UEFA EURO 2008 by then coach Josef Hickersberger, the striker who sports the No17 for Austria has achieved first-choice status under new supremo Karel Bruckner.

In the current qualifying competition for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Janko has struck two goals in three games, including one of his country’s three in the sensational 3-1 victory over FIFA World Cup runners-up France.

Football lovers everywhere will be hoping the likeable goal-getter continues his fine spree, and manages to steer clear of the injury curse which has so often threatened to derail his progress in the past.