For an overachieving club in the Champions League, arriving at the most elevated stage usually leads to some personal farewells.
In the Red Bull Salzburg team who take on Bayern Munich in Bavaria on Tuesday for a place in the last eight are young players with impetus and ambition. They have not propelled their club this far without being noticed and sized up for potential summer transfers.
Their young manager, Matthias Jaissle, on whom there is also growing attention from bigger clubs in higher-profile leagues than Austria’s, acknowledged that as he plotted the finishing touches of a plan to surprise Bayern as effectively as Salzburg did in the first leg, taking the lead in the 1-1 draw.
“We want to bring through talent, so young players can make the next step,” said Jaissle, outlining the business model that has served Salzburg well enough to make them serial Austrian champions, but left them conscious of their middling place in two hierarchies: the one that governs the network of clubs under the Red Bull umbrella, and the wider natural order of Europe.
“The next step” for the likes of strikers Karim Adeyemi, 20, and Noah Okafor, 21; or for the creative Brenden Aaronson, 21, and 22-year-old midfielder Mo Camara is likely to be a move upwards before long.
Assuming their fitness and a summer transfer market that operates in the conventional, predatory, way they will all be the subject of interest.
Their price-tags have been raised by their mature, vibrant showings in an adventure that began in the play-off round for the Champions League, featured a group stage where Salzburg defied expectations to finish above Sevilla and Germany’s Wolfsburg and made history with a first-ever arrival in the last-16 of the competition.
Usually, to aspire to a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, a Salzburg footballer would first have to switch domestic leagues, as Liverpool’s Sadio Mane or Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland – to name two who have passed through the club – did. He might also do that by following the well-irrigated path to RB Leipzig, where the principal sponsor is the same multinational company that backs Salzburg.
That was the route taken by French international defender Dayot Upamecano. He made his Salzburg debut at 17, joined Leipzig at 19, and, as of last summer, made his big move to Germany’s superpower, Bayern, joining head coach Julian Nagelsmann, who also moved from Leipzig to Bayern last year.
Upamecano and Nagelsmann are fully wised up on how Salzburg will attack Bayern tonight, with quick transitions and breaks, using the speed of Adeyemi and the passing of Aaronson, among other strengths.
Salzburg 1 Bayern Munich 1 player ratings
“They will push up and defend with a high line in phases and counter-press,” predicted Nagelsmann, “and at the start they will try to hurry us. We have to be prepared for that.”
Recent form has not given Nagelsmann the ideal preparation. Just ahead of the first-leg draw in Austria three weeks ago, Bayern lost to Bochum in the Bundesliga.
They dropped points again at the weekend, drawing 1-1 with Bayer Leverkusen, a performance featuring two standout moments of defensive uncertainty: there was Thomas Muller’s first career own goal, a mix-up between the veteran and the goalkeeper.
There was almost a Leverkusen winner thanks to an error in possession by Upamecano, who was reminded publicly after the final whistle by Nagelsmann that there are areas of his game that, at 23, he needs to develop.
Bayern still have a comfortable, nine-point lead in the German league they have won for the past nine seasons, but their head coach warned they should not dismiss Salzburg as the “rank outsiders” that Jaissle has dubbed them.
“They have been a strong team for a few years,” said Nagelsmann, emphasising how direct Salzburg are going forward.
“They have a very clear idea of what they want to do when they have possession. It may not be that pretty, but it’s tough to defend against and they have good individual players with a hunger to achieve things. If they were in the [German] Bundesliga, they’d be strong competitors.”
Some of those hungry individuals may well be in the German Bundesliga before long. Adeyemi – who may assume more responsibility tonight if Okafor has not shaken off a muscle problem – grew up hoping he would be. He was on Bayern’s books until he was 16. Since he turned 19, his impact over the border in Austria has seen him called up for the senior German national squad.
“He’s got a lot of quality, the speed of course, both from wide positions and in the penalty area, and he is useful in the air,” said Muller of Adeyemi. “From what I see in him, he’ll be motivated rather than intimidated by coming back to Munich.”