Who is Crystal Palace's new manager Oliver Glasner?

By Matt Ford (@‌matt_4d_) 19 Feb 2024
Oliver Glasner with Europa League medal

German football expert Matt Ford talks Europa League titles, attacking full-backs and muddy t-shirts

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German football expert Matt Ford takes a closer look at Oliver Glasner's journey from a player with Austrian side SV Ried to his new role as Crystal Palace manager via the Bundesliga.

Manager analysis: Oliver Glasner

After Eintracht Frankfurt’s 3-2 win at VfB Stuttgart in last season’s German Cup semi-final, Oliver Glasner appeared at the post-match press conference in a celebratory t-shirt covered in mud.

"Our fans were singing the club anthem like they always used to do on our Europa League trips, so I went over to them to soak it all up again," he said. “It's been a difficult few weeks for us, so I just had to dive on the turf to let it all out."

A "difficult few weeks" was putting it lightly. Having won the Europa League less than a year earlier, Frankfurt hadn't won a Bundesliga match in two months, slipping from the top four down to ninth, and leaving pre-season aims of UEFA Champions League qualification looking wildly over-optimistic.

The Eagles would go on to lose 2-0 to RB Leipzig in the final in Glasner's last match in charge. Now, after an eight-month break, the 49-year-old Austrian is back in management, taking over from Roy Hodgson at Selhurst Park. So, what sort of manager are the Eagles of south London getting?

The direct route to goal

A few days after those muddy semi-final celebrations in Stuttgart, after another away defeat against Hoffenheim made it 10 Bundesliga matches without a win, Glasner conducted a very different press conference, snapping at a journalist in a furious, red-faced defence of his team.

"Lacking effort?" he fumed. "Stop with this rubbish! I know how these lads work, so stop with this ‘don’t understand, no effort, no character.’ This team is in its second cup final in two years, they’re going through fire for Eintracht Frankfurt! Of course they get it!"

Glasner had a point. Having led Eintracht to their historic Europa League triumph against Rangers in Seville in 2022 and seen the club's debut Champions League campaign ended only by Italian champions-elect Napoli, he had overseen the climax of the most successful period in the club's history.

Oliver Glasner with Europa League trophy

"You don't win the Europa League with Eintracht Frankfurt unless you're a top coach, enough German clubs can tell you that," says Christopher Michel, a journalist who covers Frankfurt for various local media.

"But Oliver Glasner is a top coach. His football has a clear forward focus - high pressing, vertical passes, taking risks, the direct route to goal. I think that could make him great for the Premier League."

Expectations and reality

However, Glasner's two years in Frankfurt changed both coach and club, altering expectations to such an extent that perhaps a clash was inevitable. After the Europa League win, sporting director Markus Krösche had publicly called for a top-four finish – but hadn't, in Glasner's eyes, made the necessary improvements to the squad.

Serbian full-back Filip Kostic, who had contributed seven goals and 15 assists from the left wing in Glasner's 3-4-2-1 formation, had left for Juventus, while central defensive mainstay and fan favourite Martin Hinteregger retired.

"Glasner was ultimately a victim of the gap between expectations and reality," wrote local Frankfurt newspaper Hessenschau, 63 per cent of whose readers thought sacking Glasner was the wrong decision.

"Glasner had bigger plans, higher expectations, he wanted more quality in the squad," recalls Michel. "The heavy defeat to Napoli [0-2, 0-3] really annoyed him. Everyone was disappointed. The spirit was gone. That's when the arguments began."

How Wolfsburg and Frankfurt changed Glasner

Glasner, who has long worked with a "personality development coach", had also changed. The press-conference firebrand was almost unrecognisable from the softly-spoken tactician who had first arrived in Bundesliga with Wolfsburg in 2019.

Far from the white heat of Frankfurt, Glasner – who's own playing career in Austria with SV Ried ended with surgery on a brain haemorrhage following a knock to the head – had been free to tinker between his preferred back three with advanced wingbacks and a 4-2-3-1 with Wout Weghorst as a target man.

The Dutchman, who went on to play for Burnley and Manchester United, would score 36 league goals in two seasons as Glasner led Wolfsburg to seventh and fourth-place finishes. Glasner, however, opted to forego Champions League football in 2021 to take over Frankfurt in the Europa League. Disagreements with current outgoing Liverpool sporting director Jörg Schmadtke played their part, but Glasner is not on his own there.

"My greatest weakness is sometimes my greatest strength: my impatience and ambition can go in both directions," Glasner told Vienna daily newspaper Der Standard. "But success is like when you eat a piece of chocolate and you think: that's good, I want more."

Upon his arrival in Frankfurt, he immediately commented on the size of his new club – the fourth-largest in Germany with 139,000 voting members. He admitted that it took him some time to adapt to the different level of emotion and intensity, perhaps best demonstrated when over 30,000 Eintracht fans took over Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium in 2022, effectively turning the Europa League quarter-final second leg into a home tie.

Frankfurt players and fans v Barcelona

"At the end of the day, we're artists on a stage who want to excite the audience. It's moving to see that enthusiasm in people," Glasner said after last season's cup final defeat. "I arrived as a bit of a bore but I'm leaving as a highly emotional person."

As for his future, Glasner has always insisted that he has never followed a specific career plan. "I don't necessarily have to go to the Premier League to be happy," he told Der Standard. But that's where he's landed.

"Glasner is a good guy, you can have a laugh and joke with him – but he's also demanding," added Michel. "Maybe it will help him to be in the Premier League where managers have a bit more say in transfer policy, because I would consider him a good squad planner, too."

If he ever guides Palace into Europe, as he did with Wolfsburg and Frankfurt, expect more mudslides at Selhurst Park.

Matt Ford (@‌matt_4d_) is a freelance journalist specialising in German football, fan culture and sports politics.

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