Salzburg strong favourites for Austrian title
VIENNA, July 17 (Reuters) - With Giovanni Trapattoni and Lothar Matthaeus at the helm, Red Bull Salzburg will be hot favourites to win their first league title in 10 years when the Austrian Bundesliga gets under way this week.
Bankrolled by Red Bull's billionaire founder Dietrich Mateschitz, Salzburg have dominated the summer's sporting pages in Austria following the sensational signing in May of former Italy coach Trapattoni and ex-European footballer of the year Matthaeus as sporting director and coach respectively.
Trapattoni and Matthaeus have wasted little time in overhauling the team, with a dozen new players already brought in and several more reported to be on the way.
Although the rumoured transfers of Ronaldo from Real Madrid and Pavel Nedved from Juventus have so far failed to materialise, acquisitions like Croatia midfielder Niko Kovac, Czech Republic striker Vratislav Lokvenc and 20-year-old Switzerland forward Johan Vonlanthen should certainly be capable of performing well in Austria's top division.
Trapattoni has identified defending champions Austria Vienna and their city rivals Rapid Vienna as his team's likeliest challengers for the title.
Austria Vienna are expected to have a tough time living up to last season's double-winning exploits, however, particularly since the club have been busy offloading players and cutting wages following demands made by their backer Frank Stronach.
Strikers Roland Linz and Sigard Rushfeldt and goalkeeper Joye Didulica were among those moving on during the off-season.
Aside from Dutch keeper Jelle ten Rouwelaar, signed from PSV Eindhoven, the reigning champions have looked closer to home for replacements, bringing in four new players from Austrian clubs.
With five departures and seven new signings, Rapid have undergone quite a shake-up following their disappointing fifth place finish last season.
Coach Georg Zellhofer, who took over the team in January following Josef Hickersberger's appointment as Austria's national trainer, has set a European place as Rapid's "absolute minimum target".
While last season's surprise packages Pasching and Ried are hoping to build on, or at least consolidate their respective third and fourth place finishes, other sides will concentrate less on the league table and more on their balance sheets.
Sturm Graz, Graz AK and Wacker all had initial applications for playing licences turned down due to various financial difficulties, with the two Graz sides only getting the green light after the state government agreed to provide guarantees of 1.2 million euros ($1.5 million) for each club.
Sturm will begin the new campaign on minus three points as punishment for their financial disarray, and there could be further problems ahead. Last week police removed ticketing computers from the club as part of an investigation into alleged false accounting.
'Village teams' SV Mattersburg and promoted Altach, both with a population of less than 6,500, are hoping to benefit from the uncertainty surrounding the mid-table clubs and have set top five finishes as their ambitious short-to-mid-term aims.
One common factor uniting tiny Mattersburg with the millionaires of Salzburg is the involvement of both clubs in European competition. Mattersburg earned a place in the second qualifying round for the UEFA Cup thanks to their appearance in the Austrian Cup final.
Trainer Franz Lederer has been quick to insist that league survival remains Mattersburg's overriding priority with the European adventure very much in second place.
Salzburg, whose European ambitions begin with a Champions League second qualifying round tie against Swiss champions FC Zurich, are likely to see things a little differently.