Over the last twenty years an elite group of European managers such as Ancelotti, Heynckes, Mourinho and Van Gaal have moved seamlessly from post to post collecting trophies wherever they go. Tending to be on the grizzled side with a wry turn of phrase, they appear weary but have a tireless appetite for success following the template created over a thirty career from the sixties to the nineties by Ernst Happel.
He was the first manager to win the European Cup with two different clubs, and the only one to do so in the pre champions league era. He won the domestic league and cup in four different countries, squeezing in a World Cup Final to boot. He unsurprisingly summed up his career thus "everything paid off and I have no regrets".
Rarely for a successful manager he had an equally glorious playing career. A defender, one season at Racing Club Paris aside, he spent it all in his native country Austria at Rapid Vienna, winning six league titles including one double. He was capped 51 times and was part of the Austrian team which finished third in the 1954 World Cup.
From his defensive role he could see in his own words that it was "from midfield, [that] the game unfolds.". A deeply reflective manager, he was best described as taciturn in his speech, ensuring he commanded attention when he spoke.
Happel moved to the Netherlands to begin his managerial career at Den Haag, a lowly team, where he had the freedom to develop his tough but fluid 4-3-3 formation. Saying he would rather win 5-4 than 1-0, he expected his teams to shape themselves in his image: strong but with guile. The strength was represented by an aggressive pressing game, whilst the guile translated into players who could adapt ot the situation of the game.
By 1968 he had turned Den Haag into a top four team, beating Ajax to win the Dutch Cup. This was noted by Feyenoord who won the double in 1969 but decided they wanted a man of Happel's calibre to lead them into European competition.
A bon viveur who enjoyed a cognac along with his ubiquitous cigarette, he soon settled into a routine whereby he would chew the fat with regulars in a bar near Feyenoord's De Kuip stadium, pondering tactics and selection.
One of his first actions was to complete the "holy trinity" of a midfield adding Austrian Franz Hasil to the more defensive minded Wim Jansen and "De Kromme" Wim Van Hanegem. Recalling the 36 year old goalkeeper Eddy Pieters Graafland for the 1970 European Cup final against Celtic after he had initially dropped earlier in the season, defeated manager Jock Stein was moved to say afterwards: “Celtic has not lost to Feyenoord. I have lost to Happel,”.
Feyenoord went onto win the Intercontinental Cup (World Club Championship) against Estudiantes and the 1971 Dutch league title before being eclipsed by Ajax. This led to Happel electing to leave the Netherlands, staying briefly at Sevilla before spending the rest of the seventies in Belgium, firstly with Brugge where he won the league three seasons in a row from 1976 (with a double in 77). He also took them to the 1976 UEFA Cup final and 1978 European Cup final, losing on both occasions to Liverpool.
Before moving to Standard Liege he took the Dutch national team to 1978 World Cup Final where substitute Dick Nanninga equalised with 8 minutes to go against the hosts Argentina. Robbie Rensenbrink almost won the game in ninety minutes only for his shot to hit the post but Argentina ran out 3-1 winners in extra time.
After winning the Belgian Cup in 1981 with Standard Liege, Happel moved to West Germany to manage Hamburger SV. Praised by the veteran Gunter Netzer for his man management he won the Bundesliga in his first season alongside another defeat in the UEFA Cup Final. Twelve months later he retained the league title and won his second European Cup, beating a Juventus team which featured Michel Platini, Zbigniew Boniek and several of the Italian side which had won the 1982 World Cup. After a German Cup win with Hamburg in 1987, Happel returned to his native Austria, leading FC Tirol to back to back league titles, the first of which was in 1989. Fittingly his career ended in 1992 managing the Austrian national team. He died in post, with the Praterstadion in Vienna soon renamed Ernst-Happel-Stadion.
A philosopher manager who summed up his approach as "It is not important why you win. You have to know why you have lost", Happel, married the Austrian tradition of his childhood with the nascent Dutch style he helped to create, successfully transferring the finished product from club to club across western Europe.