Ernst Happel is number 7 in 90min's Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next week.
He is often wrongly overlooked as one of the forefathers of the 'total football' revolution of the 1970s, but the influence Ernst Happel had in shaping today's game as we know it cannot be underestimated.
His willingness to buck trends and analyse his own opinions is what led this mastermind to success and enabled him to conquer European football as a manager.
It was as a youth player at Rapid Wien, with his playing career not yet underway, that Happel first showed the strong-minded, rebellious nature for which he would later become renowned. In 1938, aged 13 at the time, he was kicked out of team gatherings for his refusal to sing along to Hitler Youth songs, as he remained a staunch opposer of the Nazi regime. Despite his maverick nature, he was known as being a man of few words. A man who let his actions do the talking.
At the end of his turbulent 12-year stint as a Rapid Wien senior player, Happel represented Austria at the 1954 World Cup, where against all the odds, he helped them finish in third place. With 5-0, 4-1 and 7-5 victories on their way to the semi-finals, it is perhaps no great surprise that this man put attack at the centre of his footballing philosophy as a manager.
"People love a player with ideas, because at the end of the day, the crowd want to be entertained. And with football being only a game, it has to be enjoyable too."
After hanging up his boots in 1959, Happel took to the dugout with ADO Den Haag in 1962. Having finished runner-up in the Dutch Cup in three of his first four seasons in charge, the Austrian's managerial ability was clear early on. He finally achieved success in 1968, leading them to Dutch Cup glory for the first time in Den Haag's history.
One year later, he took over at Feyenoord where he would begin to make his name on the world stage. At a time when the 4-2-4 formation prevailed, Happel was one of the first managers to opt for a three-man midfield to allow his side to dictate play from the middle of the park. This proved immediately successful, as he led the Dutch side to victory in the European Cup, coming from behind to beat strong favourites Celtic 2-1 in the final.
They would go on to win the Intercontinental Cup (the FIFA Club World Cup of its day) later that year, before winning the Eredivisie title the next season. But as a dominant Ajax side began to take over European and Dutch football, Happel left Holland to join Sevilla in Spain. After one uneventful season in the Spanish second division, he joined Club Brugge, where he would have yet more success.
He endured a trophyless first year, but Happel then led Brugge to three straight Belgian league titles, one Belgian Cup and one UEFA Cup final. The pinnacle of his spell at the club came in his fourth and final season, as he took them to the European Cup final where they would take on Liverpool at Wembley.
With injuries to two key players, Brugge were forced to play defensively and as such, they struggled to create many chances and attempted to shut their opponents out. Liverpool's dogged 1-0 victory came in complete contrast to when the sides met in the final of the UEFA Cup two years beforehand, in which the Reds won 4-3 on aggregate.
"He gave me a friendly tap to the head afterwards. I knew then that he was satisfied with me but the defeat bothered him. He just grunted [...] I thought I knew him a little at the end. I learned a lot from him in my football life, but he was a weird man, right?"
Brugge keeper Birger Jensen on Ernst Happel, via De Witte Duivel
Such was his work ethic, Happel took on the role as Netherlands manager alongside his role at Brugge during his final season with the Belgian club. He then led the Dutch to the 1978 World Cup, hoping to win the trophy for the first time in the nation's history. However, he would be attempting to do so without the nation's greatest ever player Johan Cruyff, as he prematurely retired from the international game amidst fears of his safety in Argentina, who were led by a military dictatorship at the time.
Despite a 3-2 defeat to Scotland in the first group stage, Netherlands progressed all the way to end, where for the second World Cup running, they met the hosts of the tournament in the final. His pre-match team-talk is said to have consisted of just three words: "Gentlemen, two points."
Alas, luck just didn't fall the way of the Oranje. With the score at 1-1, Rob Rensenbrink's strike in the dying seconds was a whisker away from giving them a dramatic victory, but two goals in extra time saw Argentina crowned world champions for the first time in their history.
After the devastating defeat, Happel stood down as Dutch coach and took a break from the game, albeit a brief one.
"A day without football is a day lost."
Just six months later, Happel was back in football with relative minnows K.R.C. Harelbeke. It wasn't long before he took another big job though, as later that year he became the head coach at Standard Liege.
After a Belgian Cup and Super Cup double in 1981, Happel then moved on to Bundesliga powerhouses Hamburg. His impact was felt immediately, as he led the club to a German league title and finished runner-up in the UEFA Cup in his first season.
The next season, he retained the league title and added to it with a European Cup victory, beating Juventus 1-0 in the final in 1982. With this the Austrian became the first manager to win the Champions League with two different clubs and remains, to this day, the only manager to have led three different teams to the final of the competition.
|Dutch Cup (1968)|
|European Cup (1970, 1983) |
|Intercontinental Cup (1970)|
|Belgian Championship (1976, 1977, 1978)|
|Belgian Cup (1977, 1981)|
|Belgian Supercup (1981)|
|Bundesliga (1982, 1983)|
|DFB Pokal (1987)|
|Austrian Championship (1989, 1990)|
|Austrian Cup (1989)|
Since then, only four other managers have won the European Cup with two different clubs. The other four to achieve this feat are Carlo Ancelotti (Real Madrid & Bayern Munich), Jose Mourinho (Porto & Inter), Jupp Heynckes (Real Madrid & Bayern Munich) and Ottmar Hitzfeld (Borussia Dortmund & Bayern Munich).
Granted, Hamburg and Feyenoord were bigger players in European football back then than they are now, but in terms of size they still do not compare to the majority of clubs in the list above. And to have reached the final with Club Brugge too only further proves Happel's brilliance.
The Austrian's last job at club level came in his home country with Swarovski Tirol, with whom he won the Austrian title in 1989 and 1990. To add to his list of accolades, Happel is one of only six managers to have won league titles in four or more countries.
1992 saw the mastermind take his last and arguably the biggest job of his career, as the manager of the Austrian national team. It would have been a dream job of his and he no doubt would have been desperate to lead them to a major tournament. Sadly his time in this role was cut short, as he passed away, aged 66, less than one year after being appointed.
He no doubt would have performed wonders for the country and in the wake of his death, Austria named their national stadium after Happel - a testament to the impact he had on the game and the nation as a whole.
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