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Gernot Zirngast, chairman of the Austrian professional footballers’ association (VdF), talks about the current state of professional football in Austria in an interview with newspaper Der Standard. An extract from the interview.


‘At present there aren't even ten professional clubs in Austria that satisfy all the conditions for playing football as a full-time job.’ 
 Mr Zirngast, what do professional players earn in this country?
Gernot Zirngast: ‘We collected data on this a few years ago and came to 30 to 40,000 euro gross annually in the Erste Liga and 100 to 120,000 euro in the Bundesliga.’


Is there a big difference between Salzburg, Rapid, Austria and let's say Kapfenberg?
‘The top wages are paid in Salzburg, of course. Rapid and Austria have fewer players who earn as much. In general, you can see from the budget where people earn more on average.’


How do they compare with mid-level players in the German Bundesliga?
'Top earners in Austria certainly earn the same as a mid-level player in Germany. So we certainly have players who earn 1.5 to 2 million euro gross. They are of course the exceptions. The broad mass, as I said, lies well below that.’


120,000 euro on average surely isn't terribly low pay. What more can a trade union do for such people?
‘A great deal. Young players are affected just as much as mature members in the national team if certain things aren't negotiated. What if, like in Italy and Spain, players are excluded from training because their faces don't suit the trainer? With the collective agreement that has been in place since 2008 and is now being updated, we in Austria enjoy conditions that are heavenly in comparison with Eastern European countries. Or think of this season's strike in Spain, where players have waited months and years for their money. Such things can't happen here any more if the player objects.'


'During the licensing process, players have to confirm that they were paid all their money by the end of the previous year, and that they have only one contract in force. For the 2012/13 season, players have to confirm this by the end of March. If they don't, there's no licence for the club. We've been working for years to get this far.'


The collective agreement now says the minimum wage is 14 payments of 1,100 euro gross per year. Some individual players in the Oberliga (amateur league) perhaps already get that much. If you compare it with the salaries of 30 to 40,000 euro annually in the second league, is this stipulation really necessary?
'Precisely in the second league it was absolutely customary for players to be paid considerably less. Young professionals often got 200 to 300 euro, though they still had to train twice daily. With 1,100 euro, a young player can get by without help from his parents, and he can strive to establish himself in professional football.’


Does every player in the squad get this 1,100 euro?
'Less only if, for example, he can work a 20-30-hour side job without any problems. Up to a few years ago, many Bundesliga clubs consisted mainly of amateur players. The Bundesliga—and it deserves a lot of credit for this—has laid down that  there must be at least eighteen contract players in the squad, with effect from 2012/13. Next year, it'll be twenty. That's a major step towards answering the question of whether professional football can or can't be afforded.'



The players' union has its own model of how it sees professional football in Austria ...
‘At present there aren't even ten professional clubs in Austria that satisfy all the conditions for playing football as a full-time job. In the case of Kapfenberg and two to three other clubs, this is still far from being so. Some are certainly going to have problems getting licensed this year. The basic requirements include a modern stadium, a pitch-heating system for the wintertime, and an academy in each club. Only seven of our clubs have an academy.’


Does the Austrian League still have a vision of itself as a training league?
‘As this is a small country, there is in general no other prospect. A few things have already happened in that direction in recent years, and I put this down to our work as well. The ‘Österreichertopf’, a scheme to promote primarily Austrian players and Austrian club ownership, has brought about a rethink among the clubs. Only Red Bull Salzburg doesn't meet the conditions. It's a long time since we had so many Austrians in Germany as at the present time.’


Is it advisable to try to become a professional footballer in Austria?
‘Try talking a 14-year-old out of going into an academy if he has that option. Only 0.005% of Austrians can become professional footballers. People know how difficult it is.’


What can be done for those who fail?
'The academies should have an economically independent advisory system for trainees. There are too many interests at present. The academies, especially in the regional clubs, want to sell players abroad, because that means much more money for them. But the point of the academy should be to complete the trainee's school education. A trainee should not get stuck halfway through simply because various managers are promising him paradise. Such a change may of course be delightful, but a player should also be helped, by former professional footballers, for example, to see things from an independent point of view.'


What does the Austrian Public Employment Service (AMS) do for an unemployed footballer?
'I myself was in that situation twice because of transfer disputes between clubs. No one there knows what should be done about footballers. I know of players for whom things are no different today. At the end of a career path there is a possibility of retraining. For a young person who wants to keep on being a professional footballer, there are no offers. He's left on his own with his unemployment benefit.’


In Germany there is a dedicated training institution for such players...
‘It's run by the German players' union with very substantial support from the German Football League (DFL). They began with eleven players, they now have eighty, and they have to turn down some applicants. We have reflected on this, and we'll be speaking with the Austrian Football Association (ÖFB) about it. The ÖFB and the Bundesliga must make a contribution to this.’


Should a young player get himself an adviser?
‘That is the only alternative at the moment. But with players' advisers, with whom and how is often not very clear. There are no controls in Austria. This too is very necessary. We have made a clean start with the FIFA licence. It's not bad fundamentally, but I believe that, in Austria itself, an adviser isn't needed, although abroad I’d very probably want one. Then there's the question: is it good? When we see who's made it if, for example, did he went to Italy or England early on? One or the other makes it, but not very many in percentage terms. We'd rather promote the path taken by Sebastian Prödl, currently playing at Werder Bremen in Germany, who managed first of all to struggle through while with Sturm Graz. Many clubs in Austria offer this prospect. Then, with a secured training, a player can dare to make the leap and go abroad.’