‘Many Shades of Purple’: Chapter One

Hello there ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back to ‘Many Shades of Purple’. We’re finally here at the starting line. To say that I’m excited with getting this save underway would be an understatement!

The database has been loaded and, due to a perfectly timed day off from work, I’ve been able to get stuck in and immerse myself with the new game.

Now, before I proceed I’d just like to highlight that there was a previous post I wrote, outlining what the purpose of this save was all about and the challenges that lie ahead for me. You know, just in case anyone decided to hope, skip and jump all the way to this post.

If you are all caught up, then great!

Let’s proceed!

If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna!

A Conqueror Lost To History

Location: Vienna.

The Scene: A well-supported football club that’s in dire financial straits & a fan base desiring an end to the domestic decline.

As a nation Austria has always held historical significance. Once the seat of a vast empire, the days are now much quieter. The football scene, however, has always been alive and well – and has witnessed a revival (so to speak). Whether you see this as good or bad is a matter of perspective.

On the one hand Austria is, arguably, becoming the go-to nation of youth development and talent spotting. In recent years, some of the best young talents to emerge in the European theatre of the game have all spent the first chapters of their professional careers playing in Austria. That would be the positive.

On the downside, however, the majority of these young superstars are emerging from one team alone: RB Salzburg.

I think it’s fair to say that the mention of any ‘RB’ team either follows up with praise or disdain. On the one hand, you have a series of clubs that are efficiently run to produce maximum turnover, both on and off of the pitch.

On the other hand, the ‘RB’ clubs represent the commercialisation of the beautiful game in, arguably, it’s most physical form. When it comes to my opinion on these sorts of teams, I’m very much in the middle.

A positive is that clubs like those within the ‘RB’ business model have completely overhauled how youth set-ups should be run, and they do get the best out of their homegrown crop of players. By just taking a look at the fees that RB Salzburg have received in recent years is a testament to this feat.

And yes, it is a commercial club. But this sort of business began to occur long before Salzburg’s inception – and will continue to develop in the decades to come.

With all of that being said, Austria represents a great challenge. It’s a great starting point for this save – as there are plenty of fallen giants plying their trade in the Austrian Bundesliga. Of course, due to the restrictions imposed on this save, there is only one club for me: FK Austria Wien.

The Background

When it comes to the most supported clubs in Austria, there are three candidates for this particular crown: RB Salzburg, Rapid Wien & Austria Wien.

Founded in 1911, The Violets have established themselves as Austria’s most successful club in terms of silverware earned: 24 national league titles & 27 cup honours – although Rapid Wien holds the record for most league titles won (32).

Alongside its city rivals, The Violets have never been relegated from the top flight of Austrian football – a really remarkable feat and a testament to the quality of the club.

However, over the past decade the club has spiralled into decline; both on and off the pitch. Despite possessing one of the best youth academies and facilities in the country, The Violets haven’t won the league title since the 2012-13 season.

Coupled with financial issues, which have caused the club the take on huge debt, The Violets have become reliant on exporting its crop of rising stars to ease the monetary burden – which, in turn, has seen the club drop in league positions over the seasons.

Of course, fortunes can change if the right man is in position. And this is where I come in…

The Assessment

Coming into any club, especially one as unknown to me as Austria Wien, I always like to do a thorough assessment before moving on to the first press conference. For me, three key checks needed to be completed before I began to draw up my game plan for the club’s aims and ambitions.

1) The Financial State of the Club

Arguably, this is the most important step before even reviewing the current crop of players that any club has on hand. Well, it’s the most important for me anyhow. I have no idea how others feel about this.

Anyway. Assessing the financial make up of any team I take on is important for two reasons: first, it’s gives me a greater insight into how the club has been managed. Second, it highlights how far the club’s resources can be stretched to suit my needs for the coming season.

Upon taking the mantle of manager at Austria Wien, I analysed the books and it was immediately clear that I would have my work cut out for me.

The club is almost £12 million in the red! That already sounded alarm bells. As The Violets would be competing in the Europa Conference League this season, there was a possible £2.9 million cash injection up for grabs if we made it to the group stages.

Luckily, the board managed to secure a £13.8 million bank loan to balance the books. Still, it’s only a plaster over a bleeding wound and the source of the problem would still need to be addressed.

One of the core culprits is our inflated wage budget for the First Team. Despite being allocated a weekly wage budget of just over £98,000, the club was already spending close to £118,000 per week!

That extra £20,000 was clearly bleeding cash that we couldn’t afford to waste. So one of my first tasks would be to balance the wage structure and implement a more conservative model of cash management here.

I have therefore set myself three targets to accomplish before the second (and final) year of my contract is up in Vienna:

  • Ensure the the club’s overall financial balance is in the black
  • Implement and adhere to a coherent wage structure for the First Team
  • Secure a net profit on player sales during every transfer window
2) The Current Crop of Players

Knowing that this was a club with one of the best youth set ups in the country, I was over the moon to see such a young squad that I could work with.

Granted, a lot of the promising players on Austria Wien’s books are still continuing their development in the academy, it gives me hope that I can bring a few of them up to the First Team during the season – ideally after January once I have their reports in.

In the meantime, my first priority was to trim down the wage budget to bring my bank balance in line.

One of the first casualties of my squad overhaul was veteran wing-back Markus Sutter. At 34-years old, the former Brighton man was a solid figure in the dressing room but commanded a weekly salary of £11.5k. And with only 12-months remaining on his contract and no intention of signing an extension, it was high time he found a new employer.

French outfit Nimes submitted an offer of £115k to take Sutter and his expensive wages off of my shoulders, and with that, the club’s coffers felt a little lighter.

Now, before I move on with any further transfer business I believe a little context is required. Before I was hired the board had opted to place just under 75% of the current First Team on the transfer market.

The financial state is so dire that nearly every player was expendable. And clubs across Europe knew this. The fee we received for Sutter (£115k) was but a fraction of his estimated market value (£375k). So I needed to narrow down my aims for this transfer window: was it about easing up the wage bill or just trying to turn a profit to balance the overall finances of the club?

For me, it was easing up the wage bill. A long-term approach was necessary and, by just focusing on profit without addressing the areas where the club is bleeding money, would do more harm than good.

Moving on.

With the board putting the majority of the First Team on the market, there were plenty of foreign clubs sniffing around the more talented crop of players. It was inevitable that a few of them would move on before the conclusion of the Summer Transfer Window. The only question remaining would be which players would move on?

To my own credit, I was able to hold on to the bulk of my future stars for The Violets; granted that when I tied them to new contracts, release clauses were included. But hey, it’s still a win in my book.

However, I did lose two key players who were due to have big roles in the First Team for the coming season.

Losing Patrick Pentz was, arguably, the bigger blow to my plans for the season. For starters, he’s a top goalkeeper who was one of the star players in the squad. But, with 12-months remaining on his contract and a desire to move on from Austria Wien, my hands were tied. An £850k offer from Bologna was enough to convince the board that it was a good deal for all parties. I do wish him all the best in Italy – even if it leaves me short on cover.

Vesel Demaku made it clear to me from Day One on the job that he wanted a fresh challenge and, despite my best efforts to keep a hold of him for the season, he went public with his demands for new opportunities. A £1 million offer from Belgian club KV Mechelen sealed his desired move abroad, and provided a healthy injection of much needed cash into the club’s bank account!

And that about wraps up this rather long entry into the series, well for now anyhow. In the next post I will go over how the club faired in my first season in-charge, along with discussions on tactics, incoming transfers and what the future holds.

Until then, thank you for reading.

All the best,

FM Viola.

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