Player Rating (click to rate):
( 14 Votes )
Born: Saturday 16 February 1929, Vienna, Austria
Died: Saturday 23 August 1980, Vienna, Austria (aged 51)
Although nominally a wing-half, Austria's Gerhard Hanappi was one of the first players who could be considered a true 'box-to-box' midfielder. His versatility meant that he could comfortably play in almost any outfield position, combining solid defensive play with creative attacking ability. Spending most of his playing career with Rapid Vienna, Hanappi was also one of the stars of the Austrian team which finished third in the World Cup in 1954.
Born in Austria on 16 February 1929, Hanappi begin his football career in the youth system of SC Wacker, during the Second World War. Although he was short and stocky, he was exceptionally fit and had the ability to cover a remarkable amount of ground during games. Within the W-M formation, which remained the standard for many teams during his career, Hanappi was commonly used at left-half but was regularly given freedom to roam around the pitch and make the most of his abilities.
His senior career began during Wacker's double winning 1946-47 season, making a handful of league appearances and also playing in the 4-3 cup final win over Austria Vienna. Becoming a near-ever present in the side, in his late teens Hanappi was often used as a left-back, utilising his sense of positioning and anticipation, but gradually came to be employed in a more advanced role. His talent was obvious, as he broke in the Austrian national team in the 2-1 win over Sweden in November 1948 and soon had all the leading clubs in the country competing for his signature.
Hanappi remained at Wacker until 1950, during which time the club were regular challengers for the league title but were unable actually to claim the prize again. In the summer of 1950, rivals Rapid Vienna made a determined effort to secure his transfer at any price and to the fury of Wacker supporters, eventually got their man. The bad feeling over the transfer greatly intensified the rivaly between the two clubs over the subsequent years, especially as in Hanappi's first season at Rapid his new club won the league by five points from second placed Wacker and also won the final of the international 'Zentropa Cup' between the two teams.
The title was retained in 1952 and as the decade progressed, Hanappi was allowed to use his attacking talents more and more. His ability to get forward into the box and his powerful shot saw him become a much more regular goalscorer, especially as having lost their championship in 1953, Rapid won it back a year later helped by a career-high 21 goals from Hanappi. That summer, he travelled across the border to Switzerland to appear in his first World Cup and helped Austria to make a real impact on the competition.
Used more defensively at international level than at club level, Hanappi helped Austria to ease through their group without conceding a goal before coming through the highest scoring World Cup match in history in the last eight, beating hosts Switzerland 7-5 having trailed 3-0 inside 25 minutes. The semi-final against West Germany was a match too far, as Austria were crushed 6-1, but they did rebound to beat outgoing champions Uruguay in the third place match to clinch what is still their best ever World Cup finish.
Rapid lost their league title in 1955, but were still selected as one of the teams who were invited to take part in the inaugural European Cup in 1955-56, with Hanappi appearing in all four of their games as they reached the quarter-finals. That season was the most prolific of his career, as he scored 25 league goals as the title was won back by just two points from his old club Wacker, with another championship success 12 months later giving him five titles in his first seven seasons at Rapid.
In 1957, Hanappi broke the record of former team-mate Ernst Ocwirk for appearances in the Austrian national team. The following summer he appeared in the World Cup for the second time when as captain, he played in all three of Austria's games at the finals in Sweden but they were unable to match the achievements of 1954, taking just one point and finishing bottom of their group. That would be his final appearance in a major tournament, but he did go on to reach a total of 93 caps for his country, a record which would stand until beaten by Toni Polster during the 1998 World Cup.
The 1950s ended in frustration at club level, as Rapid finished as runners-up in the league twice in a row and lost to Wiener AC in the 1959 cup final. They would lose the cup final again in 1960, although Hanappi did not appear in the final itself, but did storm to another championship success that season. Getting another crack at the European Cup in 1960-61, Hanappi was again ever present as Rapid reached the semi-finals, contributing an important goal in their first round tie against East German side Wismut Karl Marx Stadt.
By the summer of 1961, Hanappi had missed just eight league games for Rapid in the past ten years. Moving into his 30s, he was no longer the goalscoring threat that he had been in the early 1950s but was still a vital player for club and country. His final appearance for Austria came in a disappointing 6-0 home defeat to Czechoslovakia in September 1962, with the national team in a decline from which they have never really recovered.
There was to be one more league championship success before he retired from club football, with Rapid winning their first title in four years in 1964, by a comfortable six point margin from Austria Vienna. The following season he appeared in just one game and at the age of 36, retired from football in the summer of 1965. In all, Hanappi made 333 league appearances in 15 years with Rapid and scored 114 goals, as well as captaining the team for seven seasons. His contemporaries considered him to be one of Austria's finest post-war players.
Unlike many former footballers, Hanappi did not attempt to make any move into coaching or media work but instead became an architect, having taken an interest in the subject during his playing days. He specialised in the design of sports facilities, with his greatest achievement being the construction of the Weststadion in Vienna, a new home ground for Rapid. Sadly, Hanappi was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and died in August 1980 at the age of just 51. In his honour, the Weststadion was renamed in his honour, both as one of the club's greatest ever players but also uniquely as the architect of the arena itself.
References (all accessed 7 April 2012):
- Published on Saturday, 07 April 2012 16:30