The Clinical Krankl – An Austrian Number Nine

Goal scorers are like gold dust in football and teams all over the world strive to find a player who can consistently score 20 goals a season – the magical figure universally accepted as the benchmark for defining what is prolific. This is a story of a player for whom a 20 goal campaign represented a disappointment. Over a three-year period in all competitions this player scored with increasing regularity: firstly 27 goals, then 35 goals and then improving that total yet again to 42 goals to earn himself him a big-money move to Barcelona. This is the story of Austria’s Hans Krankl.

Viennese born Krankl joined the youth section of his local club Rapid Wien as a 17-year-old in 1970. He progressed quickly through the system and the following year as part of his football development was loaned to Wiener AC, another well-known Viennese club. The young Krankl was now getting regular football and flourished during his sole season there. Rapid recalled him at the end of the campaign and this marked the beginning of his career truly taking off. He established himself quickly as first-choice centre-forward and his ability to find the back of the net was unerring. In six years with Rapid Wien he was Bundesliga top scorer four times, twice netting more than 40 goals in a season, and his outstanding statistics were recognised with a trio of Austrian Player of the Year awards.

Unsurprisingly international caps materialised early and in 1973 Krankl made his debut for Austria in a friendly against Brazil. In September 1974 the forward lined up for Austria in an important European Championships qualifier against Wales. In Nick Burnell’s excellent book, “Trailing Clouds of Glory”, the Welsh centre back Dave Roberts describes Krankl’s performance that night. Roberts stated: “I have never worked so hard in all my life to keep up. The guy was a phenomenal athlete and a magnificent technician”. Austria won the fixture 2-1 and Krankl, of course, scored the winner.

The rest of Europe was starting to take notice of this fantastic forward who was far more than just a goal-scorer. He could drag defenders out of position with his ceaseless running and he had the technical expertise and awareness to bring other players into play: he appeared to have it all, the complete centre-forward.

In the summer of 1978 the footballing world saw the talents of Krankl on the biggest stage of them all, the FIFA World Cup. Austria had qualified for the finals stages for the first time in 20 years and, with Krankl starring, would advance in the competition by winning their first round group. In the second round group games (as it was then), Austria faced West Germany. Austria had not defeated their close neighbours for 47 years but broke that hoodoo by winning an outstanding game by three goals to two. Krankl was again to the fore with a double, his first a magnificent left-foot strike which gave Sepp Meier in the West German goal no chance. Krankl scored four goals over the duration of the tournament and his exploits that year for club and country took him very close to winning the Ballon D’Or.

Clubs across Europe wanted to acquire his services during the summer of 1978 and early favourites to sign him were Valencia. The Spanish club already had World Cup winner and ’78 tournament top goal-scorer Mario Kempes on their books, so for their fans the thought of a Kempes and Krankl pairing upfront must have seemed a mouthwatering proposition.
However just as it seemed this was his likely destination, changes were afoot at the Nou Camp and a foreigner spot opened up when Johan Cruyff left Barcelona for the USA. Big names such as Paolo Rossi were linked, but the powers that be at Barcelona decided that Hans Krankl was the man to fill that vast void left by Cruyff.

The wait for his first goal in a Barcelona shirt was brief and in just his second appearance he scored against the team he had been heavily linked with, Valencia. Over the course of that season he scored three hat-tricks which including five goals in one game against Rayo Vallecano, en route to winning the Pichichi Trophy for finishing as La Liga’s top scorer with 26 goals. Krankl also scored in the El Classico against Real Madrid.

His prolific scoring helped his new club win the European Cup Winners Cup and it was the Austrian’s winner in extra-time that finally overcame a stubborn Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Final. All things told a stunning first season for the Austrian star.

Krankl’s second year with Barcelona was not so fruitful with a difficult spell during the first half of the season that led to him being dropped. Behind the scenes Barcelona officials made it clear to other clubs that Krankl was available on loan, a curious decision considering it was less than a year since he had been crowned Spain’s top goalscorer. Eventually the Austrian regained his place in the Barcelona first team and found some scoring form by the season end.

A change in playing style under the management of Helenio Herrera saw Krankl struggle again during his third season and it was becoming clear that his time at Barcelona was coming to an end. Even despite his struggles during two of his three seasons there, Hans Krankl still managed 63 goals in 88 games in all competitions, an outstanding goal to game ratio.

Other major European top clubs pursued Krankl, but the Austrian made the decision to return to his native country and to Rapid Wien, the club where it had all started for him. His impact back in the Bundesliga was profound and in his return season he helped Rapid win the League title for the first time in 24 years. The following year Rapid Wien did even better by winning the League and Cup double with Krankl finishing as top goal scorer. In between these campaigns the striker once again spearheaded Austria’s challenge at a World Cup. His nation reached the second stage once again and individually he scored once to take his overall World Cup tally to five.

Over the six seasons of his second spell with Rapid Wien Krankl scored more than 150 goals. One of the highlights of this spell was the run that his beloved Rapid enjoyed to the Final of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1985. Krankl scored in the Rotterdam final, but Rapid succumbed to an excellent Everton side. It was around this same time that his international career ended with a last appearance for his country against Hungary in a World Cup qualifier. His glittering time with Austria brought 34 goals in 69 internationals, a national record for many years until eventually broken by Toni Polster.

In 1986 Hans Krankl left Rapid and turned his attention towards management with Wiener AC, the club he joined back in 1971 as a player in the loan move which ignited his football career. Now in his mid 30s he spent two seasons there performing the twin role of player manager with his goalscoring instincts – 40 goals in 60 appearances – undimmed by his advancing years.

Krankl would spend time with two other clubs to round off his football career, firstly with Kremser SC and then Austria Salzburg (now FC Red Bull Salzburg) where, at the ripe old age of 36, he scored 10 goals in 14 games including a flying scissor kick which was voted the goal of the season winner. That particular goal epitomised Krankl’s technique and demonstrated just how cleanly he used to strike a football.

Hans Krankl’s goal scoring accomplishments stand the test of time. He remains the all-time top scorer for the Austrian Bundesliga and of course Rapid. He is also held in high esteem in Barcelona despite a comparatively short career there.

Of course Hans boasted another notable string to his bow quite far removed from the world of high-level football – step forward Hans Krankl the singer of some repute! His first release which gained extensive Austrian radio play was entitled ‘Ohne Ball’n Und Ohne Netz’ which translates to “Life’s no fun without a ball and a net”, is a mix between Euro-pop and Austrian oompah band with an orchestral interlude. In 1985 a song which translates as ‘Lonely Boy’ even reached number two in the charts.

You can take this as a word of caution that Krankl is, to this day, still involved in Austrian light entertainment and with chat shows. He may not be to everyone taste as a singer, but my word, what a footballer!

CRAIG MUNCEY

Craig has appeared on numerous football websites such as These Football Times, The Football Pink and Inbedwithmaradona amongst others. He is a proud Welshman who loves to share his views on football with the reader. If you enjoy his writing and are interested in reading more then please visit welshfootballfans.com  where a number of his articles from a Welsh perspective are situated. You can also find Craig on Twitter @CraigMuncey

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