Club profile: RZ Pellets WAC

13. Jänner 2022 in ADMIRAL Bundesliga

Founded: 1931

Home Ground: Lavanttal-Arena

Location: Wolfsberg, Carinthia

Colours: Black & White

Manager: Robin Dutt

Website: www.rzpelletswac.at

 

The history:

Wolfsberger AC may now be renowned for some special European nights and a number of plucky performances leading to high placings in the ADMIRAL Bundesliga, but the humble beginnings of the team can be traced back to 1931, when Michael Schlacher, Karl Weber, Adolf Ptazcowsky, Hermann Maierhofer and Franz Hafner banded together to form a new football team in the East Carinthian town of Wolfsberg.

It took 15 years for WAC to move up to Carinthia’s top division, albeit the campaign was one to forget as the team were relegated without claiming a single point in 1946/47. Nevertheless, the team were back five years later, and by 1955 they had secured an impressive second place in the Kärntner Landesliga, followed up by a narrow play-off win which saw the team move up to the second-tier Tauernliga. Wolfsberger AC battled hard against WSG Radenthein in the 1956/57 season, and victory would have given the club a chance to qualify for Austria’s erstwhile premier class A-Liga. In the end, they were edged out in the league table by four points, and ultimately relegation followed just one year later.

 

Landing a maiden trophy

At the end of the 1950s, the Tauernliga was replaced by the regional leagues which would then comprise Austria’s second-tier. It took WAC a few years until they regrouped and mounted a challenge to reach the Regionalliga Mitte, but under Hugo Reinprecht’s watch, the team achieved just that in 1968 by winning the Kärntner Landesliga and lifting their first official piece of silverware. In the coming years, the Wolves cemented their status as a regular fixture in the second-tier, and when the multi-regional league system was once again replaced with a single national second division (the Nationalliga), WAC had secured their spot. A blip came in the form of relegation in the 1976/77 season, but another trophy would swiftly follow, as the club once again won the Kärntner Liga and the play-offs which followed, to bounce back at the first time of asking.

 

Ups, downs and a promising partnership

Wolfsberger AC battled away at the Nationalliga level in the late 70s and early 80s without going close to promotion, before a roller-coaster period saw the club relegated three times, and also promoted three times (winning three more Kärntner Liga titles) between 1984 and 1994. Another league reform then reinstated the Regionalliga Mitte, but this time as a part of Austria’s third-tier, and WAC ended up as a founding member of that division in 1994. Despite coming close to promotion on several occasions, the next step for Wolfsberg was a relegation in 2002, and even another in the 2003/04 season. Once one promotion had been won back in 2006/07, Wolfsberg’s co-operation with neighbouring club SK St. Andrä was made official, as the two clubs agreed to remain separate entities, whilst working closely together in key areas such as business administration and marketing, with the academy and senior teams run from a central WAC|St. Andrä office in Wolfsberg. From then on, the associated WAC|St. Andrä team took part in the Regionalliga Mitte, winning the division in 2009/10 and sealing promotion to the second-tier Erste Liga.

 

Bound for the Bundesliga with Bjelica

In just their second season of Erste Liga football, Croatian manager Nenad Bjelica gave the team a lightning start, taking maximum points from the first five games. WAC never dropped below second all season, before a 3-1 away win at First Vienna ended up securing the title, and an historic promotion with a game to spare. Winger Jacobo Ynclán took his 2011/12 tally to 14 goals and 8 assists in that game, capping a fantastic season for the Spaniard who had only joined from RSD Alcalá the summer before. Jacobo ended up staying at WAC until 2017, playing over 150 games for the Carinthians. Forward Christian Falk also chipped in with a mighty 18 goals and 8 assists during that record-breaking year for WAC, the Austrian played for the club over 100 times between 2009 and 2014.

In a general assembly following the conclusion of that successful 2011/12 campaign, Wolfsberg and St. Andrä decided to part ways, meaning that it was RZ Pellets Wolfsberger AC who registered for their first ever Bundesliga season in 2012/13. 10 more goals from Falk (before his season ended through injury) meant the team would flirt with European qualification in a strong debut campaign, but ultimately they fell just short, finishing in fifth. It wasn’t long before Wolfsberg would get a taste of continental action though. After Nenad Bjelica and his successor Slobodan Grubor had both moved on, Dietmar Kühbauer was in charge at the Lavanttal Arena. He steadied the club with a seventh placed finish in his first full season, before setting the league alight in 2014/15. Wolfsberg topped the table for several weeks and were in the top two for the first half of the season, eventually ending up in fifth place, which brought with it a spot in the UEFA Europa League qualifiers.

 

From Borussia with love

A goal from Jacobo Ynclán gave WAC their first ever European victory away against Belarusian side Shakhtyor Soligorsk. A home win would follow, setting up a dream tie with Borussia Dortmund in the next round of qualifying. A creditable 1-0 defeat in Carinthia preceded a 5-0 loss at the Westfalenstadion, with goals from the likes of Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The upset didn’t happen, but the WAC fans enjoyed their first taste of European football, and there would be more to come!

The next few Bundesliga seasons were unremarkable for the club, but when the league adopted its current split Championship Round / Qualification Round structure for 2018/19, WAC impressed again under Christian Ilzer, playing slick football and finding themselves in the top six bracket. That campaign ended with the club’s best ever league finish; third place. That meant that UEFA Europa League group stage football was guaranteed to be coming to Carinthia.

Gerhard Struber was in charge for the following season, and on match day one of the Europa League, he oversaw perhaps WAC’s most remarkable result ever. Two goals from Mario Leitgeb helped Wolfsberg to a scarcely believable 4-0 win away against then German Bundesliga leaders Borussia Mönchengladbach. Europe had taken note, and although Wolfsberg couldn’t qualify from the group in the end, more historical results followed as they took a point off AS Roma twice, thanks to a rocket from Michael Liendl in a 1-1 draw at home (WAC’s European matches were played in Graz’s Merkur Arena) and a spirited 2-2 draw away in the legendary Stadio Olimpico. Struber’s success saw him secure a mid-season move to England, and so in came Ferdinand Feldhofer. He continued the team’s good run, and navigated Wolfsberger AC to third in the table again. Israeli striker Shon Weissman won the league’s Golden Boot with a massive 30 goals in 2019/20, as club legend Liendl ranked as the league’s top assist provider; a feat the midfield playmaker would repeat the next year too.

 

An ambitious new era

The team wrote a new chapter in their European history books in 2020/21, and in a Europa League group alongside CSKA Moscow, Dinamo Zagreb and Feyenoord, WAC stunned the Dutch former European champions with a hat-trick for Michael Liendl, and a 4-1 away win in Rotterdam. In the final game of the group, Feyenoord came to Klagenfurt’s wintry Wörthersee Stadion, and Wolfsberg were able to win again, as a narrow 1-0 triumph took the club through to the last 32 to face Tottenham Hotspur, then managed by Jose Mourinho. The games were lost, but Wolfsberg had shown that they belong on the European stage, and their annual aims are now set much higher than ever before.

 

The stadium:

The Lavanttal-Arena lies in the heart of Carinthia’s Lavant Valley just south of the town of Wolfsberg, and comprises a number of other sporting facilities next to the training grounds and the first team pitch used by Wolfsberger AC. The stadium opened in 1984, but after qualification to the Bundesliga in 2012, it underwent renovations to add a new covered seating grandstand and an away sector for around 1000 visitors, bringing the total capacity to today’s figure of 7,300. The Lavanttal-Arena is one of the most picturesque Bundesliga grounds, with rolling pastures as well as hills and mountains the backdrop for visitors.

 

The team:

Robin Dutt took over as manager for the 2021/22 season; the German has management experience at the top level in his homeland, and also comes in with some extra off-field know-how, as the former Sporting CEO of VfB Stuttgart. Dutt can still count on the squad’s two veteran midfielders, captain Michael Liendl and Mario Leitgeb (both have made well-over 100 appearances for WAC), but there’s a youthful element to the side too, with the likes of Adis Jasic, Kai Stratznig and Matthäus Taferner all getting lots of minutes under their belt despite being under 21. After Shon Weissman’s heroics a few seasons back, WAC have brought in another Israeli forward, Tai Baribo, who is one to watch leading the line.

 

Vocabulary:

renowned - berühmt

 

plucky - tapfer / mutig

 

traced - verfolgt / aufgespürt

 

albeit - obgleich / allerdings

 

maiden - erst

 

silverware - Trophäe

 

erstwhile - ehemalig / vormalig

 

reinstated - wiedereingesetzt

 

separate entity - eigenständiges Unternehmen

 

general assembly  - Hauptversammlung

 

to part ways - getrennte Wege gehen

 

creditable - anerkennenswert  / achtbar

 

scarcely - kaum / schwerlich

 

Die Kollegen von "The Other Bundesliga" porträtieren in regelmäßigen Abständen die Klubs der Liga - auf Englisch mit der dazugehörigen Vokabelauswahl. In dieser Serie sind bisher folgende Klubporträts entstanden: SK Austria KlagenfurtSK Rapid WienSK Sturm GrazLASKFK Austria Wien, RZ Pellets WAC.

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