22 Defender FC Red Bull Salzburg Austria
2014 has been…
The Year of the Egger. Martin Hinteregger, more mature and more professional than the South Austrian teenager who broke into the Red Bull Salzburg first team four years and over 100 senior appearances ago, is the business. Now 22, he’s a mainstay of one of Europe’s most watchable football teams.
Despite the obvious reasons to abhor certain aspects of what it means to be Red Bull Salzburg there’s no questioning their entertainment value. They’re fast becoming the connoisseur’s choice because they press relentlessly, they’re creative, they’re ambitious and they score. And they score. And they score. Hinteregger has a big role to play in all of it and it’s a role he’s made his own.
He plays most often and most effectively at centre back, where his excellent covering and tackling behind his left back provide the biggest clue to his great strength. He reads the game exceptionally well and has the mobility to get across the grass and cut out the danger.
In many ways Hinteregger is the archetype of the modern central defender. A blond-haired monster in the air and already an influential first choice for his club, he has natural defending instincts but, usually, a composed way of going about his work. He provides a larger-than-life presence at the back and is, despite his modest years, already a leader by example.
Egger is an ever-improving ball-playing defender. His left-footed execution, while not always perfect, is seldom rushed. His short passing is better than his long passing, a difference of which he seems to be aware, and he likes to clip the ball into the forwards but will tend towards a shorter pass if it’s available, demonstrating calmness and patience as he searches for it. He’ll clear his lines when necessary too.
His tackling is generally rather tidy, but he’s not averse to cleaning out an opponent and taking a yellow card if it’s needed, and, often, if it’s not. He ranges from totalling a forward breaking past the halfway line to a standing tackle in which he takes the ball without so much as disturbing the air around the victim of his pickpocketing, who races on past him only to find the ball is at Hinteregger’s feet in miles of space.
Overall his style is quite languid. Most of the time he looks quite elegant but sometimes it’s all just a shade too casual. The small mistakes are there, perhaps best illustrated by a lazy pass to nobody against Celtic in September. He can be caught out when he tries to attack the ball high up, a knack for the gung-ho that is both endearing and a bit bonkers, but easily coached out of a developing 22-year-old who is frequently superb.
While we’re on the subject of Hinteregger’s endearing traits, how about a love of finding the net? He’s a real threat at attacking set pieces and scored twice in one UEFA Champions League qualifier in August. He also famously scored from his own half in a friendly last year; must be the hunter in him.
Hinteregger has represented Austria at Under-17, Under-18, Under-19 and Under-21 levels and is now beginning to establish himself at senior level. With five full caps under his belt, he is being brought into the fold gradually and really made his mark in March with a stellar performance in marking Luis Suarez in a friendly against Uruguay.
More international recognition is sure to follow, as is a big-money move away from the Austrian Bundesliga. Last year he confirmed that Manchester United had been interested in him and they’re not alone as reported Premier League suitors.
For a player who’s slotted in very well at international level and in European games for his club such attention is inevitable. He’ll take some replacing; Salzburg miss him when he’s not there through injury or because of his own swiftly punished in-game exuberance.
When he does make that move, whether it’s over the border into Germany, to England, or elsewhere in Europe, he’ll need to continue his work on some of the rough edges. He can sometimes lose his man under a high ball; Celtic in particular had some joy finding a man behind him in European competition this season, and used it to good effect.
In fact, that move away could be the making of him. We think Serie A would bring out the best footballer in Egger’s future, but simply making the step up should clear out some concentration cobwebs that crop up at a level at which he already looks painfully comfortable to the point where sometimes he can get caught out somewhat.
Hinteregger told his club’s official magazine that he has a deal with himself. “I give 120% in the first five minutes and try to win my first three fights. Then I find my rhythm and my confidence and the opponents give me respect,” he said. That first part might seem like there’s five minutes of work and 85 minutes of art, but the truth is that Hinteregger as a modern defender is about rhythm and confidence.
Nevertheless, that mathematically mind-boggling percentage must be applied for longer. There’s something about his style and the manner of his infrequent but casual mistakes that suggests he’s already cruising a little. A step up to avoid stagnation will soon be due, but these are details. The most important thing is that Hinteregger is as fun a defender as you’ll find at 22, and he’s only going to get better.
"Rapid Wien's Mario Sonnleitner (18) is the only Austrian Bundesliga defender to play in more clean sheets since August last year than Martin Hinteregger (16)." - OptaJoe
C+ Classy baller with a desire to improve
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