Ralph Hasenhuettl’s maiden voyage in English soccer begins in the city where the Titanic set out on its doomed journey to New York more than a century ago.
“I hope,” the Austrian coach said with a smile, “that I don’t hit the first iceberg that is waiting for me.”
These are certainly rocky times for Southampton, which has just dropped into the relegation zone in the Premier League. In Hasenhuettl, the south-coast club might just have found the manager to lead it to calmer waters.
He’ll likely provide some laughs along the way, too.
Nicknamed “The Klopp of the Alps” because of his similarities to Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp, the 51-year-old Hasenhuettl was hired by Southampton on Wednesday as the replacement for the fired Mark Hughes. He comes to England with a strong reputation after success in German soccer with Ingolstadt and then Leipzig, which he led to second place in the Bundesliga.
Like Klopp, Hasenhuettl wants his teams to have a high-energy, all-action approach. Like Klopp, there’s also a quirky side to him — as shown when he was presented as Southampton manager on Thursday.
He said his first thought when Southampton made contact with him was that it was the place where the Titanic departed on its fateful voyage in 1912. The ocean liner sank in the North Atlantic in 1912 after hitting an iceberg, and more than 1,500 passengers and crew died.
He said he was thrilled to be offered a job — his first since quitting Leipzig at the end of last season — because he had “had enough” of going on walks in the mountains in his native Austria for the past six months.
“It doesn’t matter that I won’t see the mountains for another 2 1/2 years,” he said. “That’s OK.”
Hasenhuettl also didn’t want to make any promises to Southampton fans.
“If you want guarantees, you have to buy a washing machine,” he said. “Not in football.”
What he did say, though, was that he was ready to shake up the Southampton squad and get them working much harder than they have been.
“I want to bring them to their limits. I don’t know where their limits are,” Hasenhuttl said. “When everyone is pushing limits to a higher level, we can see how far it gets. And when someone says it’s too much running or too much work for me, he will fall very quick beside us.
“My kind of football fits very good to this league. It’s a long way, an intensive way, a tough way, but let’s start from today.”
The first Austrian to coach an English top-flight team also said he would bring some order to a team that is third to last in the league and has only won one game. That victory came more than three months ago.
“The character and the mentality of the team is OK,” Hasenhuettl said. “What they need now is a match plan that fits to them. To find the perfect formation and tactical summary, then we can be less easily played.”