More than words.

If you’re going to do something, then it’s probably a good idea if you enjoy doing it. There are a few of us out there who love writing words about Celtic, for example. Some are lucky enough to have it as their full time job, some do it as a hobby but ask for money to do so, whilst some of us just do it because of a love for the club. Obviously, everyone is entitled to read anything they want about their side, regardless of the club they support, there are a lot of great blogs out there that are worth getting torn into.

Imagine if one day, you found out that Chris Davies had started a blog looking at different players, managers, tactics and teams. You’d read it, wouldn’t you? A coach at a top flight club writing a blog though? Surely not.

Ever heard of Rene Maric or Spielverlagerung?

Maric will be sitting in the opposing dugout tonight, as one of the assistants to Salzburg manager, Marco Rose. He’s been widely earmarked as one of Europe’s most progressive coaches and has just signed a contract extension that will keep him at the club based in Wals-Siezenheim until 2021. Nice work if you can get it. His club sit unbeaten at the top of the Austrian Bundesliga after 17 games, a full 14 points clear of LASK Linz in second and 25 ahead of Rapid Vienna. I wonder what they’re up to tonight? Anyway, so what, he happens to be a coach at a football club, no big deal, right? Wrong. He’s 26 years old.

The story of his career to date has attracted interest because it’s a bit of an unconventional way to get into top flight football. As a lot of people out there do, you get involved in coaching after being forced to give up playing the game due to injury. His village wasn’t heavily populated, perhaps a thousand people at most. If football is what you love and you have barely anyone to speak to about it, what do you do? How about starting a blog with some of your mates? With four of them, in 2011, they created Spielverlagerung, not knowing at the time that it would that would lead to something beyond all of their imaginations.

It’s worth a look if you like the analytical and tactical side of the game. Coaches and coaching enthusiasts would read it, and like anyone who writes, you like the validation of people reading and commenting on your stuff. Just a cool hobby for them to have, but then one day, it all began to change. An assistant to Thomas Tuchel, when he was at Mainz, dropped the guys an email one day. Tuchel, now the head coach at PSG, had seen one of their reports on one of their games and was startled at how accurate it was. An invite was extended, and Tuchel picked their brains for hours on everything from different opponents to their more general views on the game. Tuchel ended the meeting by giving them some work to do for him on tactical analysis of opposition sides to scouting, something they worked on for a year. Brendan, if you’re reading, I’m sure that Krys or I could find the time to do something similar!

Fun while it lasted, perhaps that was the end of the excitement of working at the business end of football, due to your words. Not so, word had spread. More work was in the offing. Matthew Benham, owner of Brentford and Midtjylland, renowned fan of sabernomics or the “Moneyball” approach to football got in touch, and had them do some work for him. Next up were Salzburg when Marco Rose was managing the under-18 side. Like Tuchel, he was blown away by the depth of Maric’s analysis. After meeting more than once, discussing tactics and training methods, Maric decided to go for it and asked if he needed an assistant. Ballsy, but successful.

In his first season, Salzburg won the Uefa Youth League in 2016‑17, beating Manchester City and PSG on the way. It wasn’t all quite so harmonious with the first team though, and former Watford manager, Óscar García was given his jotters in 2017. Rose was given the gig and Maric stepped up with him. The opponents tonight reached the Europa League semi‑finals last year.

Salzburg were bounced out of the Champions League at the play-off stage by Red Star Belgrade on away goals. Nil nil away would seem like a good result to take back to Austria, but not if the second leg is going to finish 2-2. Apparently, there were cheers in the dressing room when they were drawn to face RB Leipzig in the Europa League, because the two organisations wanted to be featuring in the last 32 together.

What does this mean for Celtic tonight? Make no mistake, Salzburg will be going for the win and with Maric’s help, they’ll be completely clued up on our squad. It poses some questions? Can we mislead the guy hailed as a tactical expert? Does the captain come back in from the start or do you keep him on the bench to try and close the game out at a later stage? An argument for the midfield could be made for saying that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it? After the recent news, up front takes care of itself, be well soon, young man.

If the point needed tonight is achieved, post Christmas European football will follow, with the draw taking place on December 17th for the last 32. Benfica, Inter, Napoli and Valencia already wait as four of the seeded teams in the next round and will be joined by the winners of the EL group stages. Brugge, Galatasaray, Shakhtar Donetsk and Viktoria Plzen are in the unseeded pot where Celtic want to be, come 10pm BST tonight. Leverkusen and Zürich will make it from Group A. Salzburg, regardless of what happens tonight will join the seeded teams. Old foes Zenit will top Group C and so could be seen again in G40. Slavia Prague or Copenhagen will join them but will not be a potential opponent should we make it. Dinamo Zagreb have already won Group D whilst Fenerbahçe will drop into the unseeded pot as runners up. You’d take Zagreb if you made it, right, nice trip home for Benković and Šimunović? Arsenal look likely to win Group E and Real Betis and AC Milan are fighting it out for top spot in Group F. It’s all to play for in Group G with anyone still having the chance of going through, including Scotland’s newest club. Did I mention that their opponents are 25 points behind Salzburg in their league? Eintracht have won Group H, would you fancy your chances against a side that are two points behind Leipzig in the Bundesliga in fifth? Lazio are already confirmed as dropping into the unseeded pot. Group I could be fun tonight with KRC Genk, Besiktas, Malmö and Sarpsborg 08 all dreaming of being in the pot for the draw on Monday. FK Krasnodar, Sevilla and Standard Liege all have dreams of doing the same tonight . Dynamo Kiev, FC Astana and Rennes are all in the mix for places after the festive season, with the Ukrainian side looking favourite for top spot in Group K. Lastly, in Group L, Chelsea have it won, who’s up for a trip to West London? BATE Borisov and MOL Vidi will fight it out to hopefully join the Hoops in the unseeded pot.

Who said the Europa League was boring? So much to play for and tonight the team needs as much support as possible against a very good side. Maybe Fergus McCann said it best. “Being a Celtic supporter is not always easy, but it is always worthwhile.”

Can we make it? Rene Maric and thousands of Leipzig fans will hope not.

@TheSamMcLeod

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