Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Soccernostalgia Interview-Part Four

For this Interview I have the privilege of interviewing Jo Araf, the author “Generazione Wunderteam. Ascesa e caduta della squadra delle meraviglie”.
He is an Italian Author of Jewish Origin and this is very first book.
Mr. Araf is an entrepreneur and owns a translation business.
This book is in Italian Language and chronicles the legendary Austrian ‘Wunderteam’ of the 1930s managed by Hugo Meisl.

Soccernostalgia Question: First of all congratulations on your book. What attracted you to write a book on this subject and era?

Response: Thank you! I have always been passionate about history and in the last few years I developed an interest in historic football, something that helped me combine two of my greatest passions. After reading a few publications and articles about the Wunderteam and Matthias Sindelar, I decided to uncover the true story behind the Austrian selection of the ’30.

Soccernostalgia Question: Can you give a summary of yourself? Areas of interest in writing. etc? 

Response: Regarding writing, I like focusing on untold or mysterious stories concerning football and sports. I have never read any book about a contemporary player or sportsman, as I believe the web is already replete with information. I love researching and analyzing little known facts and I am planning to write another one or two books dating back to the ’20 and ‘30s.

Soccernostalgia Question: Can you describe the format and structure of your book?

Response: I decided not to include a preface as I was not able to find a suitable writer/journalist to help me out. So I decided it was rather unnecessary. The book includes an introduction, nine chapters, a conclusion, a chronology of the main events and in the end, of course, an acknowledgement section and bibliography. It is 297-page long and I aimed to combine sports and historic events as I believe it would be almost impossible to explain what happened in football in the first half of the 20th century without providing an overview of what was happening in Europe.

Soccernostalgia Question: What was your method of research process for this book and the time it took to write it?

Response: I knew that if I wanted to succeed in writing an exhaustive and veritable work the only way I had was look up local sources. When it comes to Matthias Sindelar and the Wunderteam, it is frequent to run into inaccurate and even false information. This is why I have been very selective with the sources I chose and which often had to be translated from German. I also focused on some Italian and English written books and essays to better explain how Austrian football was shaped and the relationships between European countries in the interwar years.

Soccernostalgia Question: How did Hugo Meisl enter into the Austrian Football World from his Banking Profession?

Response:  As far as I know Hugo Meisl entered the world of football way before he took employment into the banking sector (at Landerbank). He was contracted by Landerbank in 1906 (and regained the position after the end of WW1), but in 1895 he was already part of Vienna Cricket and Football club.

Photo From: Österreichs Fußball Länderspiele Chronik 1902 – 1993, Author Anton Egger
(Austria Manager Hugo Meisl)

Soccernostalgia Question: What was Hugo Meisl’s tactical evolution from the time he took over in December 1912 to the inception of the ‘Wunderteam’?

Response:  The key step was the partnership with Jimmy Hogan that started in that very year. As many report, Hugo Meisl had a great knowledge of international football and was aware of how the British were at the forefront of it in the 10s. This is why he, advised by an English referee after a friendly match, decided to hire Jimmy Hogan as Austria’s coach. However, Hogan advocated the Scottish playing style relying on short passes and a strong cohesion between players. Unlike England, Austria started playing without a stopper (replaced by a central midfielder).

Soccernostalgia Question: How did Meisl co-exist with Heinrich Retschury when the two became co-Managers in 1914 until 1919?
Note: The only matches that Austria played in those years were vs. Hungary, so for all intents and purposes like the rest of Europe, International Football was on hold.

Response:  In 1914 the collaboration between Meisl and Hogan was no longer possible, as Hogan was declared ‘enemy on foreign soil’ by the Austrian authorities. However, no match was played under the direction of Meisl and Retschury in those years even because at that time players had no way to escape the front (some of them died). Retschury was nevertheless chosen as Austria’s coach in 1937, when Hugo Meisl died.

Soccernostalgia Question: What year can be considered the birth of this ‘Wunderteam’? It appears that 1931 was the first year when they were clearly dominant.

Response:  Definitely 1931, after the win against Scotland. That was when the nickname Wunderteam was first invented. The match took place on May 16th and marked the return of Matthias Sindelar in the starting lineup. This time Sindelar had a chance to play as center forward (unlike in other occasions).

Photo From: Österreichs Fußball Länderspiele Chronik 1902 – 1993, Author Anton Egger
(Austria squad, May 16, 1931, Austria 5-Scotland 0)

Soccernostalgia Question: What was Meisl’s responsibility in molding this squad? Did they excel because of his tactics? If so what was innovative about his tactics and training methods?

Response:  Many believe Hogan was a better tactician and Meisl a better motivator, this is why their collaboration turned out to be so fruitful. Regarding tactics, he adopted the Viennese pyramid (2-3-5) and even though the ‘false nine’ was not contemplated in his initial intentions as Austria was playing with a classic striker as Friedrich Gschwiedl, following Matthias Sindelar’s Meisl changed his plans. He was known and loved by his players as many of them reported even before his death and it is well known that he used to monitor young players since they were 14 or 15. Once again it is important to stress Hogan’s collaboration on certain aspects of the game, like the introduction of innovative diets (something unusual at that time in continental Europe)

Photo From: Football Magazine, Issue 20, September 1961
(This cartoon shows 1930s Austria Manager Hugo Meisl (with his back turned) leading the ‘Wunderteam’ in a symphony)

Soccernostalgia Question: What can be considered the zenith of this ‘Wunderteam’, a match or a year? Is perhaps the year 1932, where their only loss was (3-4) vs. England?

Response:  To me, the victory in the 1932 International Cup. That was their main achievement and the reason why they were invited to play a friendly match against England. That was the first time England had to fight hard to beat a selection coming from the continent. In 1934 the team was still very strong but for a number of reasons they couldn’t go beyond the WC’s semifinals.

Soccernostalgia Question: The only World Cup that the ‘Wunderteam’ participated was the 1934 edition. Were they not perhaps past their best at the time?

Response:  Good question. The Wunderteam had past its prime but a new generation was about to thrive. Josef Bican was 21 and could’ve become a future star just as Franz Bimbo Binder. Also, other important players like Smistik, Sesta, Nausch (who could not played in that WC because of an injury) and Zischek were still pretty young. I have the sensation that Austria could’ve won against Italy had they played on a neutral soil. Also, despite being aged 31 and with a number of physical issues, Matthias Sindelar all in all performed well in that WC.

Photo From: Österreichs Fußball Länderspiele Chronik 1902 – 1993, Author Anton Egger
(The iconic Portrait of the Wunderteam)

Soccernostalgia Question: When researching on the 1934 World Cup for my blog, French accounts describe Hugo Meisl as very angry and abusive towards his own players? Are these accounts accurate? What was Meisl’s personality like?

Response:  Yes, the match against France was much harder than expected, Austria had a bad approach and won in the end but Meisl was not happy at all. He also criticized his team’s approach in the match against Hungary, especially in the first half. Regarding the match against Italy, newspapers reported different comments: in Austria it appeared that he was enraged with the referee whereas some Italian newspapers (under fascism) wrote he accepted the defeat saying Italy deserved that victory.

Soccernostalgia Question: Matias Sindelar is always the reference player of this Team? What did you learn about him while researching your book?

Response:  We can regard Matthias Sindelar as the Wunderteam’s key player because the best era of the Wunderteam coincided with the reintroduction – and definitive launch - of Sindelar in the starting eleven. He had a key role in the 1932 victory and he was known to be Europe’s - or even the world’s – best player when Austria played the 1934 in Italy. Also, he proved to be very successful even on the international stage winning two Mitropa Cups (1933 and 1936). However I tried to explain in my book pages why the Wunderteam was not all about Matthias Sindelar. While Sindelar was the best known player locally, one has to think that Austria could boast four great teams in the ’30: Austria Vienna, Rapid, Admira and First Vienna all brimmed with fantastic talents. Matthias Sindelar actually won just a local championship when we was very young, and not even as protagonist.

Photo From: Österreichs Fußball Länderspiele Chronik 1902 – 1993, Author Anton Egger
(Matthias Sindelar)
(February 10, 1903-January 23, 1939) 

Soccernostalgia Question: Another emblematic player is Josef Bican. What new things did you lean about him while researching?

Response:  Interestingly, Sindelar and Bican were born and raised in the same street, Quellenstrasse. Bican’s father knew well Matthias Sindelar and the stories of the two players are very useful to explain how the Wunderteam and a hungry generation of young players flourished.  When in 1934 Bican played the WC he was still very young, but that was a sign Hugo Meisl strongly relied on him. Many times he praised Bican’s commitment, speed and determination. As far as I could learn, he was much more than a goal-scoring machine: he was as fast as record-breaking runners and hold exceptional skills. However he was quite unlucky: he did not have a chance to play a second WC in 1938,  a year when he was the figurehead behind Slavia’s win in the Mitropa Cup.

Photo From: Österreichs Fußball Länderspiele Chronik 1902 – 1993, Author Anton Egger
(Josef Bican)
(September 25, 1913-December 12, 2001)

Soccernostalgia Question: When researching on the 1934 World Cup for my blog, there are also many conspiracy theories surrounding the performance of Swedish Referee Ivan Eklind in Austria’s match vs. the Italian hosts. Throughout the rest of his life, Bican believed that Eklind had been bribed and was acting under the instructions of Mussolini. What is your take on this?

Response:  The same as yours. This is exactly what Bican said many years later. And he was not the only one to be suspicious on Eklind’s refereeing. The same comments were made a few days later by Czech players. Eklind was the only case in football history of a referee directing both a final and a semifinal. Rumors say (but these are just rumors) Eklind was seen dining with Mussolini the night before the final. What is not a rumor is that half of the referees/linesemen were Italian.

Photo From: Slavne Nohy, Author Jaroslav Salek, Zdenek Salek, 2002
(Josef Bican)
(September 25, 1913-December 12, 2001)

Soccernostalgia Question: In my research for the 1934 World Cup, I read that these incidents surrounding this 1934 Semifinal, affected Meisl’s friendship with Pozzo. Can you shed light on that?

Response:  Not at all, they had a great relationship. I read a book on Vittorio Pozzo and it appears evident how Pozzo respected Hugo Meisl. They first met in 1912 during the Olympic Games as Meisl refereed a match between Italy and Finland and spoke Italian when he had to address Italian players. I believe both Pozzo and Meisl were ‘victims’ of the sports and political rivalry that affected their countries in the interwar years.  The only element that may hint at a clash between the two is that after the 1934 semifinal Meisl went directly to Austria’s dressing room without shaking hands with Pozzo, but that just depended on the heat of the moment.

Soccernostalgia Question: What was Meisl’s relationship like with Vittorio Pozzo (1934 Semifinal notwithstanding) and others such as Otto Nerz?

Response:  Meisl had great relationships with Pozzo, Hogan and Chapman. Some of the most respected coaches of his time. Hogan said that Meisl was the greatest man he had ever met in the football world. Meisl and Chapman were constantly in touch and it was thanks to Chapman that the 1932 match against England could’ve been arranged. As a matter of fact, Meisl named one of his sons after Chapman (Herbert). I have no idea of his relationship with Nerz, considering that Germany was not a footballing power at that time and was never regarded as a forerunner for the WC.

Soccernostalgia Question: The accounts of Sindelar’s suicide and all the conspiracy theories surrounding it are part of the folklore of Football History. What do you generally believe happened?

Response:  As you said, I think it is just folklore. It was an accident due to his girlfriend’s heater that had been faulty for a few days (as some neighbors reported). I believe many nations that collaborated with the Nazis had to clean their image and this is why they tried to adopt as many national heroes as they could.

Photo From: L’Equipe Magazine, April 25, 1998
(Matthias Sindelar’s resting palce)

Soccernostalgia Question: What event or match signaled the start of the decline of this great team? Was it perhaps the 1934 World Cup, it seems the year 1935 was particularly poor

Response:  Yes, I believe the 1934 semifinal. It was also a matter of motivation that started fading away. Austria was still plenty of young talents (just think of Bican, Binder, Jerusalem or Hahnemann), but they needed time to bounce back as one of the world’s best selections

Soccernostalgia Question: Nearing the end of the decade of 30s, the death of Hugo Meisl in early 1937 as well as Political events (the Anschluss in 1938) changed the landscape for this Austrian side. The 1938 World Cup participation was scrapped as the Austrians were incorporated into the Greater German National Team. Sindelar refused participation and would die in 1939. How did Meisl’s death impact the National Team set up?

Response:  As soon as Meisl died, Retschury was named Austria’s coach. During 1937, Austria was playing in the International Cup but Meisl was well aware that a change was called for. This is why Sindelar’s appearances were rather infrequent and Meisl fielded Josef Bican in the position that previously belonged to Sindelar.  I am pretty sure that had Austria survived as an independent nation and thus played the 1938 WC, Retschury would’ve followed up with Meisl’s job even though, of course, Meisl’s personality, charisma and football knowledge were almost impossible to replace. One of the main effects was that football players had turned into amateurs as they had to abide by the regulations of German football. However it appears evident how Austria was coming up with new talents such as Binder, Bican (who left to Prague in 1936 but was still holding the Austrian passport), Jerusalem and Hahnemann along with a number of players who had already played in 1934.

Photo From: L’Equipe Magazine, April 25, 1998
(Josef Bican in later life with a photograph of Matias Sindelar)

Photo From: L’Equipe Magazine, April 25, 1998
(Matthias Sindelar)

Soccernostalgia Question: For the World Cup itself, a (6+5) policy was dictated, where the team would comprise of 6 germans plus 5 Austrians. How was this policy enacted? Were it politicians who dictated it or was it the Football hierarchy?

Response:  Sepp Herberger learned that during a reunion in Szczecin with Felix Linnemann, the then president of the DFB, who informed him about Hitler’s will. It had to be either 6 Germans and 5 Austrians or vice versa. Because Herberger was considering a switch from 3-2-5 to 2-3-5, he believed that strikers would’ve found easier to adapt themselves to a new playing system. This is why between 1938 and the following years Herberger primarily called up Austrian strikers.

Soccernostalgia Question: Ultimately this policy did not have the desired effect and many believe it actually hindered the team, since both sets of teams were used to playing in a different style and their combination did not so to speak marry one another? Was this the consensus in your reseach and analysis?

Response:  This is exactly what I found out. Obviously, after the defeat against Switzerland, it is fair to say that Herberger took some wrong decisions. One of the main discussions that surrounded the German selection before the WC was what tactics and playing system had to be adopted. Herberger chose a mix between the German and Austrian playing styles. He advocated the passing game even though that had never been the system German coaches used. This is why he had insisted on having Sindelar in the squad but that had not been possible. After the replay against Switzerland, a number of players said they felt totally uncomfortable playing next to their Austrian/German counterparts. However, as it often happens, criticisms also regarded some individual performances like those of Pesser in the first match and Szepan.

Soccernostalgia Question: What can you tell about the famous ‘Anschlissspiel’ match on April 3, 1938 between Germany and Austria. This was I presume just a propaganda match to symbolize unity and so forth. Apparently, the Austrians were not happy to play in this match and it was afterwards where Sindelar requested Germany Manager Sepp Herbger not to select him for the 1938 World Cup. What can you say about the background of this match?

Response:  There’s much to say. Basically, I believe the Anschlussspiel was filled with myths that I tried to debunk in my book. First, it had been said that Austria played in red ‘for the for the first time and because of Sindelar’s will’, which is not true as Austria had played in red on other occasions. Also, the Whites were the Germans who wanted to erase any reference about Austria (like the eagle on the jersey). Because it was a propaganda even and the referendum had to take place one week later, that match was supposed to be purely celebrative, I don’t think the Nazis cared much about the final scoreline. The day of the match, the signatures of several Austrian players appeared on some local newspapers in order to support the Anschluss. And the campaign went on even during the half-time break. 

Soccernostalgia Question: In your research did you learn of any interesting anecdotes about Hugo Meisl or any of the players?

Response:  There are several anecdotes I learned. Particularly interested is what happened after 1938, when Austria was invaded and Austrian football stopped being professional. Players had to find another occupation in order to make a living and just one year after they were conscripted. I also focused on what happened to them before and during WW2.

Soccernostalgia Question: Connoisseurs about the History of the Game are familiar with the likes of Sindelar and Bican. Can you describe some of the others such as Sesta, Walter Nausch, Anton Schall, Franz Binder?

Response:  Of course. Anton Schall was a fantastic striker. He was regarded as Admira’s best and most representative player and won a lot of local championships (way more than Sindelar) although he never won the Mitropa Cup. He ended his career as a defender and died young while coaching in Switzerland. Nausch was the kind of player every coach wanted: he was Austria Venna’s captain and a much versatile player able to play both as a defender or midfielder. He had lots of troubles in 1938 as he was married with an Hakoah’s swimmer, Margoth, which is why the couple fled to Switzerland. Sesta was known to be a sturdy and aggressive defender, loved by his supporters and hated by everyone else. He tended to be very disrespectful towards the authorities and for this reason Sepp Herberger did not call him up to take part in the 1938 WC. Franz Binder has been Rapid’s most representative player ever since. He won lots of titles and was known for his powerful shoot. In 1941 he also won the interwar German championship In the final against Schalke, scoring a hat-trick and a few months later he was conscripted by the Wehrmacht.

Photo From: Österreichs Fußball Länderspiele Chronik 1902 – 1993, Author Anton Egger
(Karl Sesta)
(March 18, 1906-July 12, 1974)

Photo From: Österreichs Fußball Länderspiele Chronik 1902 – 1993, Author Anton Egger
(Anton Schall)

Photo From: Miroir du Football, Issue 130, April-May 1970 
(Walter Nausch)
(February 5, 1907-July 11, 1957)

Soccernostalgia Question: Are there plans to publish this book in English language in the future?

Response:  I really hope so. There is not a reference book written in the English language and this is definitely something I am thinking about. But at the moment I am very keen to promote it on the Italian market.

Soccernostalgia Question: Are there any future works on the horizon that you can discuss?

Response:  Yes, I would love to write another two books but I cannot provide any further detail at the moment. I am already working on one of the two.

Soccernostalgia Question: Once again thank you for taking the time and discussing your book. Please keep us informed if editions in English or any other Language will be available.

Book Information:
Generazione Wunderteam. Ascesa e caduta della squadra delle meraviglie
Edition year: 2019
ISBN: 8832230003, 9788832230000

You May contact Mr. Araf via Facebook:
There is also a Facebook page and an Instagram page for the book:

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