SOUTHAMPTON — Ralph Hasenhuttl has a way with words and he is determined to turn Southampton’s fortunes around.
But he knows it will not be easy.
“If you want guarantees you have to buy a washing machine! In football there are no guarantees…” Hasenhuttl said, smiling.
He faced the media for the first time in England on Thursday and dazzled fans with his quick wit and amiable nature. The Austrian will need plenty of that in the weeks and months to come, but the mood at Southampton’s Staplewood training center seemed upbeat just 24 hours after his arrival was confirmed.
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Hasenhuttl, 51, has a huge task on his hands to drag Southampton up the Premier League table, out of the relegation zone and to give the entire club a new vision for the future.
The Premier League’s first-ever Austrian head coach said he is aligned with Saints’ overall plan to develop young talent and to punch above their weight against the PL’s big boys, and Hasenhuttl knows his first task is to drag them out of the drop zone.
“The history and the philosophy of this team fits nearly perfect to my philosophy of how to work in football,” Hasenhuttl explained. “So it was a good decision for me and I’m sure it is a good one.”
Known as a proactive coach who prefers a 4-2-2-2 formation, Hasenhuttl was nicknamed ‘The Klopp of the Alps’ in Germany during his time at Ingolstadt and RB Leipzig.
He brushed off those comparisons but there are many similarities in terms of their demeanor and intense nature. Hasenhuttl also revealed he and Klopp learned together when getting their coaching badges in Germany, and he made fun of Liverpool’s German coach for saying his name translated to nothing.
“His German is not very good because his English is maybe better than his German now!” Hasenhuttl smiled. “I was laughing about his explaining of my name and it’s hard to pronounce for you.”
In case you were wondering, Hasenhuttl loosely translates to “small rabbit house” in English.
Like Klopp, Hasenhuttl demands high levels of fitness and high-pressing from his team and when asked if he would be bringing in plenty of new players in January, he preferred to challenge his current squad to stick around.
If they are up to it.
“We just had a look at the players we have now. I want to bring them to their limits,” Hasenhuttl said. “I don’t know where there limits are and if they like to go this way with us they are invited to and when they follow us it will be an intensive, hard working way. When everyone is pushing his limits to a higher level, then we can see how far it will get us. When someone says ‘it is it too much running for or too much work for me’ they will fall very quickly beside us. That’s how I want to work until January and then we have a look.”
The group of players he has at Southampton have just one win from their first 15 games of the season.
Ahead of his first game in charge against Cardiff City on Saturday (Watch live 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Hasenhuttl admitted with a lack of training days ahead it will be tough for him to turn things around quickly.
Saints have six games in just over three weeks, with matches against Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea among them during the busy festive period.
Despite those fixtures, Hasenhuttl expects his name to be known across the globe very quickly indeed.
Fed up of walking around the Alps in his native Austria after leaving Leipzig at the end of last season, he’s now back to business.
“It is a big challenge for me but it is the next step in my career. It is my goal to get my name known here in the Premier League,” Hasenhuttl said. “I had a few successful years in Germany and when I left Leipzig in the summer I was thinking about my next step and I wanted to stand in front of a new team, with a new language to get developed personally and also in my view of football. That’s the reason I made this decision to come here, to come to Southampton. I had very good meetings with Ralph Krueger [Saints chairman], so for me it was relatively clear that I can help him in the situation the club is in at the moment.”
Drifting along over the past two years under four different managers, Saints have gone from being one of the best-run clubs in Europe to one that barely survived relegation last season and no longer has a clear playing identity or direction.
Hasenhuttl has been tasked with changing all of that as quickly as he can and he is not afraid about the daunting task ahead.
“It is tough with our schedule over Christmas. I am not frightened about it but the problem is we have a lot of games in the coming days,” Hasenhuttl said. “If you know me, I work on training sessions and habits and if you don’t have the chance to train it is not easy to change things in the team. We have just one training sessions tomorrow evening before the game. We will pay attention not to overload. My goal is to develop them [the players] as quick as possible but we have to pay attention.”
The Austrian has already held meetings with several different departments of the club ahead of meeting the players with his first training session on Thursday, as he got across his plan on how the club can succeed in the short and long-term.
Among soccer purists, Hasenhuttl back in the game is big news.
Austrian TV crews traveled to the suburbs of Southampton for the press conference and news outlets from across the UK were present as the hype around his appointment was clear. Promotions with upstart clubs, upsetting the odds and saving teams from relegation is the thing he seems to succeed at most.
“I want to put my footsteps in the snow here,” Hasenhuttl said, obviously not realizing he’s more likely to step in puddles in England. “I did it in the other clubs before and often had similar situations as we have at the moment and it’s back to the roots for me. Last year was maybe easier because I had a Champions League team and we were on a very high level with physical and tactical things. This step is not the easiest one but I never want easy in my life. I am always challenging myself. I am looking forward and I am not afraid of anything.”
Hasenhuttl delivered another witty line which suggests Southampton aren’t out of rocky waters just yet.
Asked what his first thought was after being approached by Southampton, Hasenhuttl referred to England’s South Coast city being where the Titanic set off on her ill-fated maiden voyage.
“I was thinking about the Titanic leaving here, and I hope I don’t hit the first iceberg waiting for me,” Hasenhuttl said.