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Born: Sunday 29 November 1925, Vienna, Austria
Died: Sunday 14 November 1992, Innsbruck, Austria (aged 66)
An outstanding defender during his playing career, where he reached a World Cup semi-final with Austria, Ernst Happel went on to become one of the most decorated managers in the game history. During a managerial career spanning 30 years, he won league and cup honours in four different countries, became the first manager to win the European Cup with two different clubs and led the Netherlands to the World Cup final in 1978.
Happel was born in Vienna on 29 November 1925 and joined Rapid Vienna as a teenager, getting his first chance to appear in senior football as Rapid played in the 'Ostmark' League during the Second World War. Comfortable in a variety of defensive roles, he often played as a 'stopper' in the position which would come to be identified as sweeper in future years. With Happel at the heart of their defence, Rapid were one of the dominant forces in Austrian football in the post-war years, his impact being enough to see him voted into the club's 'Team of the Century' in 1999.
In the first of two spells with the club, Happel helped Rapid to five league titles in the first nine seasons after the war including a league and cup double in 1946, as well as success in the international 'Zentropa Cup' in 1951. He became an Austrian international in 1947, appearing the Olympic Games in London the following year and remaining a regular in the team until the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland. Austria lost 6-1 to West Germany in the semi-finals of that tournament, after which unproven allegations of bribery were made against Happel and goalkeeper Walter Zeman. Both were so furious at the allegations that they walked out on the national team, with Happel not appearing for Austria for another three years.
Early in the following season Happel left Austria to play for Racing Club in Paris, but returned home in 1956. His second spell with Rapid brought a sixth league title in 1957, as well as appearances in the early years of the European Cup with Rapid coming close to being the first team to knock Real Madrid out of the competition. Restored to the national team, Happel appeared in a second World Cup in 1958 but Austria were knocked out in the group stage. In all he won 51 caps for Austria. Happel retired in the summer of 1959 aged just 33, but remained with Rapid as an assistant coach as the club won another league title in 1960 and the Austrian Cup a year later.
Happel's first job as a manager came in 1962 when he moved to the Netherlands to join ADO Den Haag. When he arrived, ADO were a struggling Eredivisie side who had narrowly avoided relegation the previous season. Never a believer in being a 'friend' to his players, Happel quickly toughened the team up and turned them into contenders for major honours. In his first four years he took the club to the Dutch Cup final three times, although they were beaten on each occasion, as well as regular top four finishes in the league. Finally, in 1968, he won his first major honour as a manager as a 2-1 win over Ajax brought cup success at the fourth attempt.
In 1969 Happel was appointed manager of reigning Dutch champions Feyenoord and in his first season led them all the way to a European Cup final meeting with Celtic. His team trailed in the first half but quickly levelled, before going on to win the game late in extra-time to become the first Dutch winners of the trophy. In the autumn of 1970, a 3-2 aggregate win over Argentinian side Estudiantes made Feyenoord world club champions. Although their European crown fell after a shock first round defeat to UT Arad of Romania, Happel went on to win his first domestic league title as a coach when Feyenoord won back the Eredivisie title in 1971.
Happel left Feyenoord in 1973, having never finished lower than second in the league during his time in charge. He moved to Spain to take charge of Sevilla, but did not stay with the club for long and in 1975 was named manager of Club Brugge in Belgium. In three years with Brugge, Happel won the Belgian league title in every season, adding a cup success for good measure in 1977. He also turned the club into major contenders in European, reaching the UEFA Cup final in 1976. There they were beaten 4-3 on aggregate by Liverpool, critically losing 3-2 in the first leg at Anfield despite leading 2-0. Two years later, the same clubs met again in the European Cup final at Wembley, but Liverpool again came out on top, this time by a single goal.
During that 1977-78 season, Happen had also been appointed coach of the Dutch national team ahead of the World Cup in Argentina. Leaving Brugge after the European Cup final to focus on that task full-time, he had to cope without star player Johan Cruyff who declined to go to the tournament but the Dutch team was still well fancied to do well. Happel's team struggled in the first group stage, drawing with Peru and losing to Scotland, but went through on goal difference and finally came alive in the second stage. A 5-1 win over his homeland Austria set them on their way to winning their group and a win over Italy sealed a place in the final. In the final Happel's team were the width of a post in stoppage time from beating hosts Argentina, but ultimately lost 3-1 after extra-time.
Leaving his job after the World Cup, Happel returned to Belgium and after a short spell with Harelbeke, joined Standard Liège in 1979. In two seasons, he led the club to second place in the league and to a Belgian Cup win in 1981. His next stop was Germany, where a six year spell with Hamburger SV would prove to be one of the most successful periods of his career. His first season brought a Bundesliga title and a narrow defeat to IFK Gothenburg in the UEFA Cup final, but it would be 1982-83 which really sealed Happel's place among the game's most successful coaches.
Hamburg retained their Bundesliga title on goal difference ahead of Werder Bremen and also won through to the European Cup final where they would face Italian giants Juventus. Hamburg took an early lead and managed to hold on to that advantage for the rest of the game, making Happel the first man to lead two different clubs to European Cup success, a feat since equalled just twice. After losing the league title on goal difference in 1984 Happel saw his team slide into mid-table, but there was to be one further major success when Hamburg won the German Cup in 1987.
Happel left Germany that summer, finally returning to coach in Austria for the first time with Swarovski Tirol. He quickly repeated the successes that he had achieved abroad, leading the club to a league and cup double in the 1988-89 season and storming to a second league title a year later. After leaving Tirol in 1991, Happel was named manager of the Austrian national team early the following year but had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in November 1992, just days before Austria were to play Germany. Throughout that match, his cap was left on the Austrian bench in tribute. Today, the main stadium in Vienna is named in Happel's honour.
References (all accessed 15 March 2012):
- Published on Thursday, 15 March 2012 13:37