Chris NeeComment

THE GRÜN-WEISS PRINCE OF VIENNA

Chris NeeComment
THE GRÜN-WEISS PRINCE OF VIENNA

Austria's exit from UEFA EURO 2016 barely raised an eyebrow amidst the myriad distractions on offer in Group F. The Cristiano Ronaldo circus, Iceland's progress and the quiet assuredness with which Hungary topped the group before being slapped out of the tournament by Belgium meant that Austria's tame effort passed without much comment outside its borders.

When Hungary beat Austria in Bordeaux, Marcel Koller's side were off the pace, every bit a team built on experience but lacking in vivacity. With Marco Arnautovic out of sorts and David Alaba unable to pick up the slack, only a battling draw against Portugal and Alessandro Schöpf's equaliser in defeat to Iceland produced a cheer.

The Austrian Bundesliga might not be the most dynamic division but there are clubs producing players more than capable of following their older countrymen across the border into Germany. We'll never know if these younger players would have breathed some life into Austria's European Championships but the squad that went to France came home with little to shout about.

Among the younger players left at home was Louis Schaub. The 21-year-old SK Rapid Wien attacking midfielder struggled with ankle injuries last season and might otherwise have been awarded a first senior cap for Austria in the last twelve months. Instead, even his Under-21 football has been limited and his development has taken a knock.

Few of Europe's bright young things have overcome adversity to the extent Schaub has managed. In April 2003, he was in a Renault Clio driven by his father, Fred, on the A7 autobahn near the city of Fulda, Louis' birthplace. The car hit a truck and was destroyed. Fred died at the scene and eight-year-old Louis was injured, suffering a broken collarbone and some other injuries he now refers to as 'minor'.

Fred Schaub was a German footballer who joined Eintracht Frankfurt in 1978 and flattered to deceive before leaving in 1981. His reputation was that of a determined and professional player who was respected by supporters and never gave up on a lost cause.

A year earlier he'd scored the biggest goal of his career, the winner in an all-German, two-legged UEFA Cup Final against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Coach Friedel Rausch brought Schaub on as a late substitute and he scored just a few minutes later, delivering the only European trophy in Frankfurt's history.

His career took him into the second division, then to Borussia Dortmund and on to Hannover 96, where he was part of a team that was promoted into the top flight and then relegated again. Via Freiburg, Schaub moved to Austria and later switched to coaching with FC Admira Wacker Mödling, a club created by the merger of FC Admira/Wacker and VfB Mödling; Schaub had played for both.

When he died, his former team-mate Karl-Heinz Köbel was brief but powerful in his praise. "Eintracht owe him a lot," said Köbel.

Schaub Sr. left behind two footballing sons. 26-year-old Fabian is a striker who's been playing for SV Buchonia Flieden in the lower reaches of the German league since 2008. Younger brother Louis describes him as a "big, brawny centre forward".

Their mother, Fred's Austrian bride, is the off-pitch influence most readily credited by Louis, whose gratitude is clear.

"She gave us a lot of strength," he told kurier.at in an interview in 2014. "My aunts and uncles supported us. It was not an easy time but my mother coped well. She always made sure that I attended training. I'm eternally grateful to her. That was very important."

Louis's dedication paid off. He played the first part of youth career at Admira, Fred's old club as player and coach, and joined Rapid Wien in 2007, making his first team debut against SK Sturm Graz at the age of 17.

Six months later he made his first senior appearance against Admira. Goals from Harald Pichler for Rapid and Issiaka Ouédraogo for Admira took the teams to a 1-1 draw in a landmark game in Schaub's early career.

He was inspired stylistically by Mario Götze, his favourite player as a teenager, who's since moved to FC Bayern Munich; both Louis and Fred were Bayern supporters. Most often seen drifting inwards from a wide forward position on either side of the field, Schaub Jr. is blessed with fantastic skill, elegance and balance. He carries a real threat with his dribbling and has taken on huge importance for his club.

Schaub is tenacious on the ball and off, difficult to dispossess and impossible to dishearten. He's worked on his physical strength since becoming a senior professional and he works hard defensively, never giving up for a second on any ball, at any time.

He made fast progress in the early years of his career and he started 24 Bundesliga games for Rapid in 2014/15, a season disrupted for a time by a broken metatarsal.

In August 2015 came the game of Schaub's young career to date. He scored two goals, including the winner, as Rapid won 3-2 to defeat AFC Ajax over two legs in a qualifier for the UEFA Champions League.

What followed was a short Champions League campaign for Rapid and a season wrecked by injury for their fresh-faced prospect, who couldn't find form in his 15 starts.

In truth, any thoughts of EURO 2016 were long gone by the time Rapid's year came to a close but now-departed coach Zoran Barisic never had Schaub available in 2015/16 without using him, either from the start or from the bench, and his importance to his club remains.

Marcel Sabitzer's move to Red Bull Salzburg added a weight to Schaub's shoulders and he handled it magnificently in 2014/15. Last year, though, the emergence of Florian Kainz and Philipp Schobesberger gave him both competition and respite. Rapid's best games in the first part of the season featured at least two of them and Kainz has since moved to Werder Bremen, joining so many of Austria's internationals in Germany.

A move over the border seems to have been written into the future of German-born Schaub almost since his debut; the timing of his injuries could hardly have been worse in that regard. With fitness and form on his side he could well be back in the frame for a switch to 2.Bundesliga, or, perhaps, that crucial step higher.

What is known is his desire to play only for Rapid as long as his Austrian league days endure. His immediate future belongs to Rapid, a club he loves and where he's loved back. Germany may beckon, but, for the time being at least, this particular wunderkind isn't quite ready.

Louis Schaub has the focus and drive of a player determined to make the most of his ability and the perspective of a young man who knows there are more important things in life than football. But, according to the man already arriving at what feels like a milestone season, "Football is the most beautiful thing in the world." On that we can all agree.

Chris Nee is an IBWM Senior Editor and co-host of the Football Fives Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter: @ChrisMNee

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