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Aug 6, 2013

Greatest Managers, No. 14: Ernst Happel

"It is not important why you win. You have to know why you have lost" -- Ernst Happel.

Ernst Happel in charge of German club Hamburger SV.
Ernst Happel in charge of German club Hamburger SV.

Ernst Happel, born in Vienna in 1925, had made a name for himself as an Austria international during the 40s and 50s of the past century. By his retirement in 1959 he had clocked up 51 caps for his country.

A decade later, and as a coach, he burst onto the scene by winning the 1970 European Cup in his first year as Feyenoord coach. It was the first time any Dutch team had won Europe's biggest club trophy. That year, Feyenoord also won the Intercontinental Cup (now known as the Club World Cup), and during Happel's five-year stay in Rotterdam also claimed two Dutch championships and the Dutch Cup.

Happel joined Feyenoord from ADO Den Haag, where he has started as a coach. When he took over ADO in 1962, they were a bottom-of-the-league side, but within a couple of years, Happel formed them into a top-class team, winning the Dutch Cup in 1968. During that time he cultivated his idea of a highly aggressive pressing game, focused on the stamina of the players and, all the while, never spoke a word.

 

"Happel was able to explain to every player what exactly he wanted from him. The back four, forechecking [pressing], offside trap -- all of that he was able to explain. Not with words; he never spoke and when he spoke you were not able to understand him. But his training practices directly went into the flesh and bone of every player," Germany legend Gunter Netzer explained in 2006.

As a general manager, Netzer signed Happel for his last big club in 1981: Hamburger SV. Before that, Happel had won several more trophies in Belgium and took Netherlands to the 1978 World Cup final in Argentina, where they lost 3-1 to the hosts after extra time.

"He came into the dressing room and I thought somebody had switched the light on," former Hamburg attacker Horst Hrubesch remembered the day he first met Happel. "My team-mates felt the same.

"The midfield was the linchpin for Happel. From midfield, he always said, the game unfolds."

During his time at Hamburg, Happel mostly refused to talk to the media, letting the players do that for him. He won back-to-back German championships and, in 1983, lifted his second European Cup -- becoming the first man to win the trophy with two different clubs -- when Hamburg beat Juventus 1-0.

"Ahead of the final we went for a walk," Hrubesch said. "Man-mark [Michel] Platini or not was the matter we discussed. The players were of the opinion this would not be necessary and Happel said 'OK, we'll stick to that and play without man marking.' Worked out just fine."

Until today, Hamburg, under Happel, still hold the Bundesliga record of 36 straight games without defeat. In 1987, after winning the German Cup -- which remains Hamburg's last trophy -- he returned to his native Austria.

In November 1992, Happel agreed to take over as coach of Austria, but he died of lung cancer not long after accepting the job. Four days after his untimely death, Austria played Germany in Nuremberg. Happel's cap was placed on the bench for the duration of the match in his honour.

ESPN FC’s Top 20 Greatest Managers was determined by a polling process of over 20 regular columnists, contributors and editors at ESPN FC.

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