Our biggest ever game and our fans can’t come – LASK president on Man Utd clash

The crowd in Linz has been reduced to just 500 under measures introduced to curb the spread of coronavirus.

By Press Association Published: 11 March 2020 - 3.55pm

LASK president Siegmund Gruber expressed his frustration that the “biggest match” in the club’s history against Manchester United will be played behind closed doors.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men head to Austria as the country, just like the rest of the world, tries to get a grip on the coronavirus outbreak.

Under the measures announced by the Austrian government on Tuesday, the crowd at LASK’s eagerly-anticipated Europa League last-16 first leg was reduced from a 14,000 sell-out to just 500 spectators.

The Austrian Bundesliga leaders could have sold out their Linzer Stadion three times over such was the interest in a match that will now be what is known in German as a ‘Geisterspiel’ – a ghost game.

“For us it’s the biggest match but not most important in history – that was when we were promoted from the third division,” LASK president Gruber said.

“But it would be a reward for the club, for the city, for the people here to stage this important match tomorrow in front of our supporters.

“It’s a pity that it can’t take place like that.

“We would have loved to see and enjoy the atmosphere here in the stadium playing against such a great opponent as Manchester United is.”

Gruber expects LASK to lose out on one million euros (£870,000) as a result of the match being played behind closed doors at a time when the lack of joined-up thinking around football has irked the president.

“We understand it’s a delicate situation,” he said.

“But in terms of the communication and the whole handling of this situation, I am not so happy about this, how the health office has dealt with it.

“They put the city of Linz a little bit under pressure as well.

“They limited the numbers of people who will have access to the stadium tomorrow to 500 – but this also includes the journalists, the ball kids and the staff.

“Why 500? I don’t understand this either. In Germany they say 1,000, so for Austria it’s half.

“I was there at the Leipzig match (against Tottenham in the Champions League on Tuesday). They played in front of their home crowd with more 40,000 spectators watching the match and Frankfurt v Basel will also take place with their fans.

“The whole communication, the whole situation I am not very happy about.”

Head coach Valerien Ismael is naturally disappointed to be playing in front of empty stands as LASK look to boost their chances of extending the longest European run in the club’s history.

The defender played United during a brief spell with Crystal Palace in the late 1990s and called this “the match of the century”.

“Back then with Crystal Palace we faced Manchester United,” Ismael said. “We lost that match (3-0).

“They are a great team. They have in every position two, three, four players of the same quality.

“They are fast, they are technically very strong, physically very strong.

“But maybe, which could be to our advantage, they underestimate us.

“That they underestimate the situation, not playing in front of the fans, and they don’t know us as a team.

“This could have a positive effect on us but what we want to do is impose our game as LASK have done in all their matches, especially also in the European competition. That’s our objective.

“Although we are facing on Manchester United tomorrow, our focus is on our team, on our game and this is what has made us so strong this season.”