TOfter the Europa League draw in December, Wolfsberger AC took the opportunity to reach out to their last 32 opponents, Tottenham Hotspur. Post a photo of José Mourinho and a speech bubble that says, “Can someone tell me where Wolfsberg is?” They added: “If you can’t find us, we’ll help you” with a winking emoji and “Hope to see you @SpursOfficial”.
Welcome to Wolfsberg, José. This is not Wolfsburg, the German Bundesliga team sponsored and powered by Volkswagen. This is Wolfsberger AC, from the small town of Wolfsberg in southern Austria, not far from the Slovenian border. Its most famous supporter is a priest.
That is not to say that Tottenham will have an easy game on Thursday in the first leg, transferred to Budapest.
Wolfsberg’s assistant coach Mo Sahli told The Guardian this week that they were approaching the tie with faith rather than apprehension. “Tottenham is the biggest club WAC has ever faced,” he said. “We are very aware of our role as underdogs and we know that Tottenham is the favorite, but all games start 0-0. We are looking forward to these games. “
Sahli, who has coached at RB Salzburg and FC Liefering, has been at Wolfsberg since the summer of 2019 and rose to fame, at least in his native Tunisia, when he became interim in November 2019 and the first African coach to win a point in a European. club competition with a 2-2 draw with Roma in the group stage of the Europa League. He hadn’t fully understood his accomplishment until he returned home and received an avalanche of adulation from the local media.
He returned to his assistant role when the club appointed Ferdinand Feldhofer in December 2019 and this season they have reached the knockout stage of the Europa League for the first time. Last season they were eliminated in the group stage despite two draws against Roma and an impressive 4-0 win at Borussia Mönchengladbach.
It’s a remarkable achievement for WAC (Wolfsberger Athletik Club), which was founded in 1931 but led a quiet life until Dietmar Riegler, a former player turned businessman, became president in 2007, bringing capital and leadership, as well as a union. of forces with another local team, SK St Andrä. The promotion was rapid, leading to promotion to the Austrian Bundesliga for the first time in 2013.
After six consecutive years in the top flight, the team finished third in 2019, leading to its first European campaign, and followed by another third place. This season they successfully navigated the group stage, finishing above Feyenoord and CSKA Moscow to set up this tie with Spurs.
The team plays a fast and pressing style of football, potential bad news for Mourinho after admitting that his players were tired after the loss to Manchester City. Wolfsberg may be left without last season’s scoring hero Shon Weissman, who joined Real Valladolid in August, but captain Michael Liendl has 12 goals this season from his offensive midfielder role and Dejan Joveljic, on loan from him. Eintracht Frankfurt, is number 10.
But it’s not just the players on the field that Spurs face. Krzysztof Jacek Kranicki became the club’s official priest at the beginning of the year, giving him the opportunity to be there “on the ground for both the team and the fans”, he told me on bezirk.at. It means that fans and players, according to local bishop Josef Marketz, “are helped by the love and faith of God and that they can go on to be courageous and full of enthusiasm both in life and in games.”
Kranicki became known locally as a supporter of the team after ringing the main church bells following the 4-0 victory against Mönchengladbach and celebrating a holy mass in the Vatican for 200 WAC fans who had traveled to watch his club play. against Roma in 2019.
The club has come a long way in a short time and the games against Tottenham will be another milestone. Whatever happens against Mourinho’s Spurs, WAC has already won.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism