Leeds United nostalgia: Ace Hiden helped to end Euro absence

Martin Hiden.
Martin Hiden.
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Martin Hiden isn’t the kind of name that immediately emerges from your mind when important Leeds signings are mentioned, but the arrival of the Austrian centre-back was part of George Graham’s defensive alterations that helped Leeds United return to Europe after an extended absence.

Hiden had moved from side to side in Austria, travelling through Austria Salzburg and Sturm Graz to reach Rapid, undoubtedly the most successful side in Austrian football. After 20 league games for them, Hiden appeared on Graham’s radar.

Graham believed he wouldn’t have an opportunity to watch him due to Austria’s winter break, almost signing him on video evidence alone, but a conveniently arranged friendly allowed Leeds to scout and ultimately sign Hiden, with confidence, for £1.3m on February 25, 1998.

Hiden’s versatility in defence was one of the things that appealed to Graham about him. Able to play anywhere across the backline, Hiden was initally expected to play at left-back or cover for Robert Molenaar or David Wetherall in the centre. It eventually turned out that Hiden would go straight into the first team upon arrival, filling in for Gary Kelly at right-back. His debut for Leeds made him the first Austrian outfield player to ever play in the Premier League, following on from Alex Manninger’s arrival at Arsenal.

Hiden’s good form meant that he was quickly involved in Austria’s national setup, winning his first cap on March 25, exactly a month after he arrived at Leeds. He would go on to make 50 appearances for his national side, scoring one goal.

Before long he was shifted to the centre, where he remained an ever present until the end of the season, one that ended in success for Leeds as they finished fifth in the league and qualified for the UEFA Cup.

Hiden travelled to the 1998 World Cup with Austria, but was overlooked behind more experienced players, missing out on an opportunity to test himself in France. He returned to Leeds looking assured, his hair now a bright orange, and became a permanent fixture in Leeds’ defence, which went on to concede only one goal in their opening seven fixtures of the new season. Leeds began their season in Europe well, beating Maritimo 1-0 at home.

However, just as Hiden’s career in England seemed to be kicking on, tragedy struck. He got his studs caught in the turf at Old Trafford, suffering a knee ligament injury that would rule him out for the rest of the season. That 3-2 loss would ultimately turn out to be Hiden’s last ever Premier League start.

After recovering, he found himself low in the pecking order and following some minor involvement on the bench, Hiden departed Leeds, joining Austria Vienna in 2000. He eventually returned to Rapid Vienna in 2003, going on to make 106 appearances for them. He later appeared for various Austrian sides before retiring in 2010.

Hiden was unfortunate at Leeds, an exciting defensive player who had his time at the club cruelly cut short.

Leeds United's players training at the Jenbach Stadium in Austria. New signing Matthew Pennington joins his new team mates.

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