Time for new goals.
Stefan Hierländer had to become one of the longest serving at Sturm Graz in order to fulfill his dream of a group stage with the “Blackies”.
On Thursday, the Styrians will be playing at AS Monaco (from 9 p.m. on ServusTV or in ServusTV stream or in LIVE-Ticker with in-match clips), with PSV Eindhoven and Real Sociedad further calibers are waiting.
But that was exactly the stage that Sturm wanted to go to. in the LAOLA1-Interview Hierländer explains why it is still not allowed to be viewed as an “educational game”.
He also explains why the Styrians are not satisfied and how Sturm went from being a stepping stone to being a club of hearts.
He also gives an insight into his previous collaboration with Monaco trainer Niko Kovac, whose path as a coach in Salzburg was already foreseeable back then.
LAOLA1: After moving into the group stage of the Europa League, you said you had to redefine your goals in Sturm. Have you found new goals yet?
Stefan Hierländer: You always define new goals. In the short term, in any case, that we can present ourselves well internationally and keep the group open for a long time. Although we are of course blatant outsiders. Nevertheless, we want to represent Austria and the black and white colors well.
“Monaco are top European teams that should normally have played in the Champions League after seeing the playoff game against Shakhtar Donetsk.”
LAOLA1: Can the underdog role help too?
Hierländer: There is a saying, “You have nothing to lose”, but that’s not entirely true because there is always a game that can be lost. Nevertheless, you can create these games differently. It has been seen in the past that Austrian clubs were perhaps the underdog, but took advantage of it and presented themselves well. That’s how we want to go about it, of course.
LAOLA1: Do you have confidence that not only Salzburg, but also other Bundesliga clubs such as WAC, LASK or Rapid have been able to show off internationally?
Hierländer: You just noticed that even as an Austrian team, which is an outsider in a group, there is a lot inside. You have that in the back of your mind at least once and you can always recall that a lot is possible. But of course everything has to fit perfectly. You saw that at the games of the clubs mentioned. Still, we just have to face the fact that we are the blatant outsider.
LAOLA1: Even the first task is attractive. What can you expect in Monaco?
Hierländer: A top European team that should normally have played in the Champions League after seeing the playoff game against Shakhtar Donetsk. In the championship they may not have got off to a good start as expected, but in Niko Kovac they have a very good coach and top players across the board. We have to try to put our best performance on the pitch to take something away.
LAOLA1: Is there a player who stands out in particular?
Hierländer: One thing is particularly noticeable about Monaco: you have a lot of speed. Every player is equipped with a high speed. It starts with the central defenders and ends with striker Wissam Ben Yedder, who became a French international at the age of 28. We just have to accept that and go along with it. It will be hard work, but that’s the way it is internationally.
LAOLA1: That’s exactly where you wanted to go, you can learn from that.
Hierländer: That’s what it’s about. If you look at our squad, only a few players have international experience. But you shouldn’t call it an educational game either, because we have to adapt quickly to the international game, i.e. learn very quickly. We have the first opportunity to do so in Monaco. It would be best if we start our international business with a top performance and absorb a lot in the process.
LAOLA1: What are your memories of Niko Kovac from your time together in Salzburg?
Hierländer: It was a long period in which I dealt with him. When I came to Salzburg in 2010, he was the junior coach. From time to time I took part in a build-up game to gain practice. In general, however, we kept in touch because the juniors were still stationed in Taxham at the time and we ran into each other every day. In 2011 he took over the fighting team with Ricardo Moniz. In the following year and a half we worked very closely together. He was already a great player, a person of great respect, and just has a good football thinking, which he also brings across well. That’s why he ended up with top clubs and is now working for a top club again. I am not surprised that he made such a journey.
“Niko Kovac has a great speech and sells his idea very well. The players were online as soon as he said something. It’s always very important that you catch the players right away with what you say.”
LAOLA1: So his path was already foreseeable back then? In Salzburg it was his first steps as a coach.
Hierländer: It was absolutely foreseeable because you noticed from the start that he was very responsive and sold his idea very well. The players were online as soon as he said something. It is always very important that you catch the players right away with what you say. I am not surprised by his path, I also believe that he still has a good path ahead of him. He has achieved quite a bit, but I don’t think that from his thinking in Monaco he has already achieved his ultimate goal. He’s already been to Bayern, even if it didn’t go that way there. I don’t know why, I’m too far away in Graz for that, that’s a different football stage (grins).
LAOLA1: But also an exciting football stage. For the past five years we’ve had the opportunity to talk about both good and bad times in storms. The times are good again right now. What makes you confident that the good phase can be preserved over a longer period of time this time? After winning the Cup in 2018, for example, things went relatively quickly in the wrong direction.
Hierländer: It is important to bring a way of thinking into the club that does not result in satisfaction, but that we keep thinking ahead and bringing in innovative things. We’re on the right track with the line-up in the club. Satisfaction is a bad advisor. The goal must always be to orientate yourself upwards. The next goal of a club that is now involved internationally is of course to repeat that as often as possible. It’s going to be a big challenge. If it is also possible to establish itself internationally, I see Sturm Graz on a very good path, perhaps also to reduce the distance to Salzburg. Because this difference is currently a big one – Rapid and LASK have worked out something like that, so I see them with a small lead. Nevertheless: Thinking should go up.
LAOLA1: How much do managing director Sport Andreas Schicker and trainer Christian Ilzer stand for introducing a way of thinking in which standing still is taboo?
Hierländer: The sports director and coach are of course absolutely key figures. For a year now, both have been working with the philosophy of always bringing in something new, being innovative and developing. You are responsible for the current “success”, but you have exactly this way of thinking to set your goals very high. They complement each other very well.
LAOLA1: How annoying can Ilzer be in the most positive sense of the word? Think of the current example of defensive standards.
Hierländer: The trainer is responsible for pointing out things over and over again and putting his finger in the wound. The feeling of being satisfied with a victory in the league, for example, shouldn’t arise either, because there is always something to improve. We don’t want to make the standard topic too big, but of course the coach has to address that and he can be annoying – that’s his “hack”.
LAOLA1: Do you have the impression that the club is now thinking a bit more long-term and is better prepared for possible departures than it was in 2018? Again, you won’t be able to keep one or the other player like Kelvin Yeboah forever.
Hierländer: When players leave the club and the club benefits financially, that is part of the business of how the club wants to do business. But there is great trust in the decision-makers that they put the squad together again and again so that we are well positioned. Of course, the great art of replacing good players is also good. But I think that we have people in our control center who really think two or three steps ahead.
“I have to be honest, of course: when I switched from RB Leipzig to Sturm, the thought was that it should be a stepping stone. But then I quickly realized that it was a bit more, because my heart was slowly becoming black and white has become.”
LAOLA1: How has your role in Sturm changed over the years?
Hierländer: In the meantime I am already one of the longest serving at Sturm. Of course you change as a player, you see things differently than you did five years ago. But the basic attitude is still the same: I want to be successful and help the team as much as possible. It doesn’t matter whether I have a loop around my left upper arm or not. That has always been my approach. But of course you go through a process in which you develop personally and assess things differently than in younger years. But that is also a good thing that you develop further.
LAOLA1: It would be legitimate if you thought in 2016 that a new challenge awaits after two or three years of storms. In retrospect, it turned into a lasting bond. Is the impression deceptive, or are you more good at it than ever before in a storm?
Hierländer: Well, it was always good for me in a storm, otherwise I wouldn’t have renewed my contract twice. But of course I have to be honest: when I switched from RB Leipzig to Sturm, the thought was that it should be a stepping stone. But then I quickly realized that it was a bit more, because my heart had slowly turned black and white in view of the trappings that exist at a club with such emotions. That goes well with my character, after all, I’m a little more emotional on the field. That’s why after a while I no longer saw it as a stepping stone, but as a club with which I really want to be part of the international scene. It was my goal to do it, and that’s how I communicated it. It just took a little longer with the group stage.
LAOLA1: All the better if you could now define new goals.
Hierländer: Exactly, then you don’t stand still, and I think it’s very cool that there is this kind of thinking in the club as well. I’m very happy that I’ve been with Sturm for so long, but I still have potential at 30 years of age. You never know, maybe there will be a few more years at Sturm Graz. But now I’ve only extended my contract until 2023 – now it’s important to play well during this period.
VIDEO – Niko Kovac’s perfect first year in Monaco:
Text which: © LAOLA1.at
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