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Portrait of an iconic manager – Ernst Happel

Ernst Happel began his football career at the youth division of Rapid Wien in Austria and in 1942 progressed to the club’s senior side.Playing as a defender, Happel, over the course of the following 12 years, went on to make close to 200 league appearances for the Austrian giants and won five league titles as well as a domestic cup.

In 1955, he moved to RC Paris for a solitary season before returning to Rapid for another three-year stint before hanging his playing boots. He had collected another league winners’ medal, in 1957, following his return to the Austrian capital.

His debut for the Austria national team came in 1947 and over the course of the next 11 years, he went on to earn 51 caps and scored five goals in the process. The defender was part of the bronze medal-winning Austrian team at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.

However, Happel is best known for his uber-successful management career that followed his playing days. He first took charge of the Dutch club ADO Den Haag in 1962 and made the nondescript side into a force to be reckoned with during the course of his seven-year spell, winning the Dutch Cup in 1968 in the process. After leaving Den Haag in 1969, Happel took the reins of Feyenoord and guided the club to their only European Cup win in 1970.

Tactics and man-management

Happel may not be regarded as the originator of Total Football, in fact, his name is likely to be bypassed when the revolutionary system is talked about but that would be a massive oversight.

The Austrian was amongst the very first managers to use a three-man midfield – a defining feature of Total Football – at a time when 4-2-4 was in vogue. The extra man in midfield gave his teams a great advantage when it came to dictating play. Happel should also get credit for employing an attacking midfielder who would wreak havoc with his advanced positioning in midfield.

Best spell as a manager

Happel is viewed as a legend by the Feyenoord faithful, having won the club’s only European Cup in 1970. He also won a league title and the Intercontinental Cup with the Dutch giants, but then his team ran into one of the greatest teams of all time: Ajax of the 1970s.

The Austrian tactician also achieved great success during his six-year stint with Hamburger from 1981 to 1987  during the course of which he won two league titles, and became the first manager to win the European Cup with two different clubs.

Greatest players in his legendary teams

Dutch legends Wim van Hanegem, Coen Moulijn and Wim Jansen were some of the all-time greats that Happel managed.


A road near De Kuip is named after Happel and there is also a bust dedicated to the Austrian at the Feyenoord home ground. He is the first manager to win the European Cup win with two different clubs and also one of only four to have won a league title in four different European countries. And that is some legacy.

Place amongst greats

Happel is one of the greatest managers in football history and he will always be regarded as one. He was tactical mastermind and had a way of getting the best out of his players.


Dutch Championship: 1970–71
European Cup: 1969–70
Intercontinental Cup: 1970

Club Brugge
Belgian Championship: 1975–76, 1976–77, 1977–78
Belgian Cup: 1976–77

Standard Liège
Belgian Cup: 1980–81
Belgian Supercup: 1981

Hamburger SV
German Championship: 1981–82, 1982–83
German Cup: 1986–87
European Cup: 1982–83

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