AUSTRIA is fast becoming the destination of choice for pre-season tours and British teams are spread within its borders but Leeds United’s latest visit has fallen foul of their last.
The club were in Austria with Uwe Rosler two years ago, based in Kossen and no more than an hour from the village near Jenbach where Thomas Christiansen set up camp yesterday but the events of that trip caught up with them on Friday as officials in Kufstein ordered the cancellation of Sunday’s friendly against Ingolstadt.
Leeds contested one game on Austrian soil in 2015, a 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in Eugendorf, and the violence and arrests which followed that match have not been forgotten.
The local mayor promptly announced that Eugendorf would stage no more friendlies and at the last time of asking the judiciary in nearby Salzburg had charged three Eintracht fans with various acts of disorder and were investigating a further 17. Four Leeds supporters paid “administrative fines” in the days after the friendly.
The finger of blame was pointed squarely by local police to a group of Eintracht ‘ultras’ who arrived in Eugendorf an hour before kick-off and, according to an official statement, caused “substantial problems” in Salzburg earlier in the day.
Eugendorf itself was ill-prepared for trouble; a market town with a population of around 6,000 who were unaccustomed to the sight of riot officers using pepper-spray. Kufstein, a short distance to the west, is bigger again but despite the protests of FC Kufstein, the club who were due to host Leeds and Ingolstadt, the plug was pulled on tomorrow’s friendly. Kufstein’s council has banned what they called ‘risk games’ altogether.
In the meantime, Leeds will work and train with a view of the Alps and an insistence from Christiansen that their fitness must be close to its peak by the time they fly home next weekend.The YEP’s Phil Hay
Leeds have been here before, albeit 10 years ago when a scheduled match against Dynamo Dresden in Germany was called off at late notice on the insistence of the police. The club reacted quickly to find manager Dennis Wise an alternative fixture in the Czech city of Liberec but United are unlikely to find new opposition in time for Sunday. Ingolstadt have already arranged to play Mainz’s reserves this afternoon.
Leeds hope their remaining Austrian friendlies, against Borussia Monchengladbach in Schwaz on Thursday and Eibar in Jenbach on Sunday, will go ahead as planned and the vice-president of SK Jenbach, Thomas Thallauer, told the YEP yesterday that the meeting with Eibar was not under threat.
In the meantime, Leeds will work and train with a view of the Alps and an insistence from Christiansen that their fitness must be close to its peak by the time they fly home next weekend.
The club loaded seven friendlies into July but Christiansen acknowledged himself that their first three, resulting in comfortable wins over English non-league sides, were a warm-up for the hardest part of pre-season. Leeds bullied North Ferriby United on Wednesday but will find more choice opposition waiting on the continent.
Speaking after their win at North Ferriby, Christiansen promised hard fixtures in Austria and concerted physical work during United’s tour. “Austria is important because of the opponents we have there,” Christiansen said. “We can measure ourselves in a better way there than in these friendly games we’ve had. This has been the beginning but physically we aren’t at our level yet.
“When we come back from Austria we will be much closer to where we want and need to be. The game against Oxford, the last one before the league starts, is the one where we have to be almost ready.”
Leeds will play one-time European powerhouse Monchengladbach in an early-afternoon kick-off in Schwaz, by which time temperatures are due to rise above 30 degrees.
Eibar, the last game of Leeds’ tour next Sunday, is a meeting with the team who rivalled United for the £3m purchase of Samuel Saiz from Huesca.
Saiz tied up a four-year contract at Elland Road on Thursday and was on the plane as Leeds flew into Munich yesterday. A month ago, Eibar believed he was destined to sign for them.
Leeds devoted themselves to finalising deals for Saiz, Caleb Ekuban and Ezgjan Alioski this week and planned to move onto defensive targets in the days that followed. Owner Andrea Radrizzani wants to see most of the club’s transfer completed by the end of the Austrian tour, a fortnight ahead of the first game of the Championship season, and Christiansen said he was hopeful that he could “90 per cent close the team” in that timeframe.