Since 2012, Ernst Tanner has been academy and youth football head at the Red Bull academy, and does extraordinary pioneering work in developing new football talents. the run of success of our u19s in the UEFA Youth League is proof of the wonderful work done at our academy, but there is also much more to testify to this:
The Red Bull talent centre in Liefering is seeing more and more super young talents honed under the leadership of Ernst Tanner - many of whom are going on to become real top players via FC Liefering and the FC Red Bull Salzburg first team.
The number of players to have taken this route to success has increased substantially in recent years. FC Liefering has since become one of the top talent hotspots in world football for scouts.
We asked Ernst Tanner about his secrets of success and found out in an exclusive interview that just taking part in the UEFA Youth League is an important factor in the further development of young talents.
Our Young Bulls were involved in a hugely dramatic UEFA Youth League play-off match last week against Manchester City. They kept their nerves in the penalty shoot-out to deservedly book a place in the UEFA Youth League's last 16. How do you rate this success with regard to the team's development?
It was impressive for me to see how we played the opponents well and truly against the wall in the second half. We should have actually - as much as we have to look at what we could have done better - decided the game earlier due to the number of top chances we created.
You have to consider in the development of our team that in Austria we need to put a Youth League team together with U18 and U16 players, while in the major leagues in Europe they play with U17s and U19s. The Youth League is designed for and aimed at this system - with three U20 players too, who must have been developed at the club. That represents an initial hurdle for us, as our U19 squad mostly comes from the FC Liefering squad, which largely consists of U20 players - and a few U18 players who we want to move up gradually.
We did very well in the play-off this year, but you can't forget that the quality of the teams taking part varied dramatically in the opening rounds. Now we are truly at a Youth Champions League stage, however. There is hardly anything to choose between the remaining 16 teams. They can all beat one another, and we have already seen how fine the margin between victory and defeat can be. This is where we want to be though, and this is what we've been working towards. We want to test ourselves in the most competitive contests possible to allow our players to develop to an even better standard. We are pleased to still be in the Youth League and, above all, that we have shown we can compete in this.
As you have already hinted at, our U19 squad is actually pretty much just cobbled together. This team has still managed to have a near flawless Youth League record so far. What was the biggest surprise for you in this?
It was fantastic for me to see that we worked much better as a team than Manchester City did. We defended well, we won the ball well many times and we always managed to double up on the strong individual players the opponents had on the wings. In this way we were truly able to get the upper hand on them, which became clearer the longer the game went on. We even downright dominated them in the second half. That was very striking and therefore a very pleasant and positive surprise.
We are going to be facing more big-name opponents in Paris Saint-Germain. How does the team need to perform and what do they need to do better to make the quarter-finals?
As I said, we definitely have things in our favour against PSG when it comes to our technical and tactical abilities. We need to perform as we did against Man City in that regard. We need to urgently improve our chance conversion. Against opponents like Paris Saint-Germain you can be easily made to regret missing chances. They have the class to defend better than Man City, so we might not get as many scoring opportunities. On the whole, games at this level hinge on small details and you need to be in the position to score from a handful of chances.
What is the importance of the Youth League on an international comparison and how important is this kind of competition for the club?
This competition is enormously important for us, as we don't have the opportunity in Austrian football to test ourselves against other teams at this high level. We play in the autumn and spring with a long winter break in between. That makes us pleased to be able to take part in such an important competition during the winter. Of course it can cause problems for FC Liefering, as they are starting the Sky Go Erste Liga again. We are happy to take on this challenge and risk, however, as the Youth League is hugely important for the further development of our players.
If you could wish for one thing on Tuesday that isn't related to our team's performance, what would that be?
There isn't anything I'd wish our team that isn't connected to their performance! I hope that we play a fair match with no injuries on Tuesday and that it's going to be an unforgettable experience for the boys. I also hope that the best team wins.
The last game had a very good attendance of over 2,000. Why should you watch the match against PSG if you are a football fan in the area?
Paris Saint-Germain is a top team with a huge reputation, and the city of Paris and the surrounding area is one of the top sources in the world of football talent. I heard a lot of people say at the last match at the Red Bull Arena how excited they were by the way we play football. It pleases me to see that so many people have got the buzz and share the excitement for our young players. To be able to see our players develop in this way is something quite wonderful and also something that brings us all together with pride. That's the case even if we all know that the Austrian Bundesliga will one day be too small for the stars of tomorrow and they will have to go abroad to take their careers to the next level. It's an uplifting feeling though to say 'I was there' to watch them play before they were stars.