This week, Johnny’s positive look at our managers and how they perform on telly and radio goes to the south coast and sees the man people incorrectly call Ralph Rabbithutch. That’ll be Ralph Hasenhüttl then.
Who Are Ya? Ralph is Austrian, having been born in Graz. He is a young-looking 51 years old. Our man is a strapping 6ft 3ins former centre forward who looks like he could actually run through a brick wall. Plied his trade mostly in his home country but also in Belgium and Germany. He was capped for his country eight times, scoring thrice.
Started his managerial career at SpVgg Unterhaching and then VfR Aalen in Germany’s third tier. As boss of Ingolstadt he got them into the top flight for the first time in their history and duly kept them there, at which point RB Leipzig came a-knockin’. Newly-formed and looking for an ambitious manager, he made them runners-up in their first season in the Bundesliga and sixth the next, before being replaced by the wonderful Julian Nagelsmann.
In December, Southampton realised Mark Hughes was really not filling anyone with hope or indeed inspiration and gave him the already overdue boot, possibly selecting Ralph as he appeared to be the anti-Hughes. In his 20 games so far, he’s got a 40% win ratio and has won many fan’s hearts already.
He cuts an impressive figure pitchside and must surely be one of the managers you’d least like to get into a fight with. Strong of chin, wide and slabby of forehead, he conducts himself with a sense of huge power being withheld. Ooh, Ralph. Very much a sense of still waters running deep about him too. Easy to imagine him in a production of War and Peace, straddling a horse.
Has no definable style of dress code. Sometimes appears in a hoodie, sometimes in a suit. There appears to be little of the show pony about him. The sort of enviable man who looks really good without even trying. Everything is understated. Hair usually shortish and floppy. Occasionally sports small curtains like it’s the late ’90s.
Cunning Linguist? Has almost flawless English and like so many new managers that arrive from Europe seemed to hit the ground running and immediately made a positive impression. But before his arrival Paul Merson couldn’t resist telling us this:
“I don’t know the man (why hasn’t he done some work?) that’s coming in but he’s never been in the Premier League before and that’s a big ask.”
This idea that the Premier League is some huge unknowable thing if you’ve never worked in it seems to still be unshakeable. How can anyone get this mythical experience if you can’t get it precisely because you haven’t had it?
And anyway, it’s just football. Ralph knows about football. If managing a side to second in the Bundesliga isn’t qualification for the Southampton post, what would be? Had Mark Hughes done anything as notable? No.
Tim Sherwood said this about his appointment. Don’t worry; it doesn’t make any sense.
“They need to make sure they get it right because changing a manager doesn’t always guarantee there’s going to be a change and manage to keep them safe.”
After a month, of course, Merse had to do a massive volte-face
“Ralph Hasenhuttl has definitely given Southampton a bounce factor. He’s got a plan and is bringing different ideas to the table. They won’t go down.”
Quite why he was so blind to this possibility before the appointment when he didn’t even know anything about the fella is puzzling in the extreme. Would this initial scepticism have been expressed if, say, Danny Cowley had been taking the job? One suspects not. But still, well done for changing your mind.
Media Hit or Miss? After having to interview mithering Mark for nine months Ralph has been a welcome breath of fresh Austrian air. His press conferences are smooth affairs with few hostages to fortune. Seems calm and at ease with himself at all times in such an environment.
The Alpine Klopp does a good interview. This one he did for Sky was typical of the charm and elan he innately has.
It is very noticeable that he is so well-versed in football, so deep into a philosophy around how we wants a team to be shaped and to play. He is very much the antithesis of Hughes. Indeed it is hard to believe there is just four years between them. It is almost as they are a whole generation apart.
For interviewers it must be great to have someone who is articulate and has interesting ideas rather than having to sweat bullets to get the interviewee to say something other than the most obvious well-worn phrases with some passive-aggressive staring thrown in for good measure.
Proper Football Man Rating: Rock Me Amadeus The boys’ track record of misjudging the quality of overseas managers is second to none, especially when they replace a plucky Brit. They’re probably still waiting for Mauricio Pochettino to flop after he so cruelly took Nigel Adkins’ job at St Mary’s and Tim Sherwood’s at Spurs. What’s ‘e know?
So they told Southampton fans to be careful what they wish for when getting rid of Mark Hughes’s low hum of monotony – even though no fan could remember wishing for whatever it was he’d brought.
You can’t have a boss called Rabbithutch, Jeff. It’s ridiculous. What next? Mr Dog Kennel? Is there a German called Budgie’s Cage, Richard? Foreigners have mad names. It’s like they speak a different language.
However, he is a big unit and could probably give you a proper leathering on the cobbles, the thought of which makes any PFM’s mouth dry and causes them to aggressively jangle his car keys in his pocket. Plus he’s from Austria like Hitler and Falco. Was Mark Falco was a Nazi then, Jeff? He isn’t the Rock Me Amadeus bloke? Why is he singing about his Amadeus. anyway? Isn’t that a posh set of draws or something? That’s an armoire? I thought that was a metal suit. You can’t manage a team in a suit of armoire, can you? You’d look like Metal Mickey. My brain hurts. Can I have my money now?
What The People Say Southampton fans seem a realistic bunch who know that the better their manager is, the quicker he’ll be on the move. They never had to fear that when Hughes was in charge. But they seem to be happy to enjoy the good times while they last and who can gainsay that as a philosophy?
The magnificent German football man Archie Rhind-Tutt got in touch with this wonderful anecdote about our man.
“Back in the good old days of the European Football Show (RIP), I went out to Ingolstadt shortly after they were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time. The night before we met Mr Hasenhuettl we were told he was ‘the man of the big success.’ Basically, their incredible rise was all down to him. That sentence rings all the more true when you look at how Ingolstadt are about to be relegated to the third tier. Anyway, we were told too about how Hasenhuettl would happily turn up to fan evenings and chat to the fans at length. All in all, the vibe was: a good egg. Next day, so it proved.
“There are quite a few out here who have passable English but don’t give interviews in it, out of fear of making mistakes. Each to their own and fair enough. Ralph (very strong handshake) had decent English but had a certain charisma that came across well. So much so that our Geordie cameraman asked him that if he ever fancied coming to Newcastle, he’d be more than welcome!
Interviewed him a couple more times after that – and always found him very approachable, even if he is a bit of a man mountain. Know that a couple of German colleagues found him a little more hostile in the way he came across in his interviews, perhaps something to do with him being vulnerable in English. Also, he didn’t coach particularly popular, traditional clubs in Germany, which won’t help your image.
“My dad after watching our Ingolstadt interview took such a shine to RH that he started following them – told RH this next time I saw him in Leipzig for a sit-down interview, which RH found quite funny. Overall, friendly guy, not quite the same wisecracking as Klopp for example, bit more passive in that regard but deserves to be renowned in his own right.”
And now for your lovely contributions:
‘The improvement in Southampton’s performances have totally shown up Mark Hughes for being frankly cr*p, which has also possibly signalled the end of the PFM manager in the Premier League. And that’s a very good thing.’
‘Mark Hughes = night. Ralph = day.’
‘Absolutely delighted with him. Has given the team an identity and purpose again, and is getting the best out of the players available to him. Wants to please the fans. What more could you want from a manager?’
‘Jovial yet imposing. As Matt Le Tissier said in an interview – “If he’d told me to run. I’d run.”‘
‘A breath of fresh alpine air! Hopefully he can stick around a bit longer than those who came and went before him. It turns out that if Mark Hughes is the question, Ralf Hasenhüttl is the answer. I fear if we push on next season he will be poached in 2020.’
‘I wish he was my cool uncle.’
‘His tiny little face on a normal-sized head freaks me out.’
‘Whenever I hear his name, I imagine David Hasselhoff sprinting to the Baywatch theme, which makes me smile.’
‘He looks like he’d have have an amazing career playing emotionally suppressed cavalry officers in BBC period dramas.’
‘Thought he was just David ‘The Guv’nor’ Morrissey doing a bit of method acting. Turns out Prem teams have discovered/decided Germany is producing a fair few progressive football managers that can do motivation and tactics.’
‘Taken us back to the drum and bass of Poch/Koeman after the Puel/Hughes stereophonics years. Unfortunately EPL economics dictate we’ll only get another season out of him.’
How Long Has He Got? Recent history has proved that Southampton is one of the finest clubs to use as a stepping stone to bigger opportunities and I’m sure that, should Ralph do well next season and get the club into the top 10, or even just playing attractively, there will be many a club sniffing around him.
Hard even for his biggest fans to see him there for much longer than next summer but they deserve praise for the appointment in the first place. The fact they learned from their previous mistakes and were not prepared to pluck one of the endlessly mediocre British managers off the merry-go-round again is much to their credit. Meanwhile RH himself looks set to be an important manager in European football in the coming year. His next job will be a really important one, so he needs an excellent season next to cement his reputation.
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