State of the art facilities of Aspire Academy continues attracting prestigious European clubs as an important station of recharging batteries for the continental and local leagues competitions.
On this basis, and after the conclusion of the winter training camps of some European giants at Aspire Academy, FC Bayern Munich, Ajax Amsterdam, PSV Eindhoven, Club Bruges and Kas Eupen to mention a few, it was the turn of the Austrian of Red Bull Salzburg and the Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg to choose the Academy’s outstanding facilities to conduct their training camps.
The Russian were the first to arrive on January 13, 2020 for the third time, then the Austrians followed in four days later, on January 17. The two teams are playing in a friendly at 4pm on outdoor Academy pitch 4; both leaving the country the next day. For a decade, Salzburg has been trying to reach the UEFA Champions League group stages, and thanks to performing very well in the Europa League in the recent years – including semi-final in 2018 – the Austrians directly qualified for Europe’s elite club competition in the 2019-20 season.
There they managed to impress fans with their aggressive style of playing against defending UEFA Champions League champion FC Liverpool, SSC Napoli and Genk. This year, the Austrians chose Aspire Academy as destination for their winter training camp – for them it’s a return to Doha after five years.
One of the two players in the squad, who was already in Doha in 2015 was Brazilian defender Andre Ramalho. The 27-year-old, who also played for Bayer Leverkusen and Mainz in Germany before returning to Salzburg in 2018, remembers his first trip to Aspire Academy quite well.
“This was already a spectacular place five years ago and I can see that it has increased over the years. I am sure it continues to be a hot spot for football clubs, because it has everything you need for a good preparation,” he said.
Red Bull Salzburg-head coach Jesse Marsch was also at Aspire five years ago. That time, however, he was in charge of the New York Red Bulls and came to Doha to exchange know-how with his colleagues from Red Bull Salzburg and Red Bull Leipzig.
“I remember how nice the people were at Aspire and then the great conditions. The training environment here is fantastic, maybe one of the best I’ve ever been to. It’s good to get work done, but we also can enjoy the good weather, enjoy the environment here and the people and everything. It’s really nice to be back,” says the American, who joined the Austrians at the beginning of the 2019-20 season coming from a stint as assistant coach in Leipzig.
Asked about differences in coaching in the USA and in Europe, he smiles and said: “Yeah, it’s different. I mean the main thing is speaking in German, so I had to learn a lot of German in the last few years, but you know it’s always about people and so as much as it’s a little in a different league, it’s still just about having good relationships and working together and challenging people to put themselves last and put the group first and we’ve done that here. I think we have had great success, so it’s been a lot of fun.”
After the club had waited all this time for hearing the UEFA Champions League anthem, the Austrian champion could not have started more impressive into the competition than they did in September 2019. They trashed Belgian side Genk 6-2 in their group-stage opener having 19-year-old striker Erling Braut Haaland receiving a standing ovation from the Red Bull Salzburg fans after scoring a first-half hat-trick on his UEFA Champions League debut, where he became the third youngest player to score a Champions League treble – behind only Raul and Wayne Rooney.
“This game was something really special to our fans and everyone at Red Bull, because we had been waiting so long to get to this stage,” Ramalho remembers this historic day.
At the end of the group stage, including a hard fought 4-3 defeat to Liverpool, where the Austrians came back from a 3-0 deficit, the club finished third in the group that sent them straight to the last 32 of Europa League where they are going to face German side Eintracht Frankfurt. In course of their training camp, Red Bull Salzburg defeated QSL-club Al Arabi 6-0 on January 18.
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