It’s difficult to define Michael Gegoritsch’s position in Manuel Baum’s system at Augsburg. The Austrian has made a name for himself as an offensive all-rounder, but this season he has branded himself as a goal-scoring threat first and foremost.
bundesliga.com unravels the key steps in Gregoritsch’s journey from second division scrapper to elite goal getter.
One touch was all that Michael Gregoritsch needed upon his professional debut to write himself into the history books of the game. With three days to go until his 16th birthday on 15 April 2010, he came on as an 80th minute substitute for Kapfenberger SV and netted a goal that made him the youngest scorer in Austrian football history a mere 120 seconds later.
After his strike, an ecstatic Gregoritsch ran to the touchline looking to celebrate with his coach above anyone else. The ensuing hug was more emotional than your typical player-trainer embrace, as the man in charge that day was none other than Werner Gregoritsch, Michael’s father. “He will be much better than I was,” proclaimed the proud father, a former player himself.
“I made a deal with dad”, explained the young starlet after his achievement as the hype train gathered full steam behind him. “He has to get me a Panini album or a Playstation game now.”
Stop-and-go Bundesliga start
While Gregoritsch’s ambitions did not seem far off from those of any other regular teenager, his name began to climb the priority lists of scouts and sporting directors across the Alps. In 2011, Hoffenheim snapped up his signature in what seemed to be a direct pathway to Bundesliga stardom. He would eventually get there, but not without taking a few detours.
After completing the Hoffenheim deal, Gregoritsch stayed one more season in Austria on loan before joining the Sinsheim squad’s reserve roster in 2012. Further loan spells in the Bundesliga 2 with St. Pauli and Bochum didn’t give him the stability he needed to develop, but at least helped him catch the attention of Hamburg, who signed him in the summer of 2015.
Watch: Michael Gregoritsch faces the 60 Seconds challenge.
Due to the Dino’s unstable form and a somewhat overcrowded the middle of the pitch, Gregoritsch found himself once more in a difficult situation. Although trained as a striker, he rarely played in his preferred position and was often shifted towards the wings or used as an attacking midfielder.
His second season in Hamburg saw him fall further down the pecking order in the squad, prompting an auspicious move to Augsburg in the summer of 2017.
Augsburg, the big break
In a plot twist that only the Gods of football could think of, Gregoritsch’s first Bundesliga outing with his new team came against none other than Hamburg at the Volksparkstadion, in front of a crowd that had decided long ago they no longer cared for him. He was subbed off in the 67th minute and Augsburg lost 1-0 that afternoon.
It was like running into an old lover in the street only to stumble and fall flat on your face in front of them. Eventually though, Gregoritsch proudly stood up, shook the embarrassment off and shouted from the rooftops that his new flame was indeed the one.
Watch: Michael Gregoritsch scores his first Bundesliga goal for Augsburg!
On Matchday 5, he scored his first goal for Augsburg in a 1-0 victory over RB Leipzig. From that day on, the Austrian became an indispensable asset for the team, netting 13 goals and missing only one game across 32 fixtures.
Amazingly, he’s still not playing primarily as a centre-forward despite his scoring record and his towering height of 6ft 4in. Instead, coach Manuel Baum has taken advantage of his pupil’s experience as a an offensive all-rounder by deploying him mainly as a second striker in support of Alfred Finnbogason.
While Gregoritsch has enjoyed many minutes as the spearhead of Augsburg’s front line - mainly due to Finnbogason’s lengthy injury break between February and April - most of his goals this season fell when he was positioned elsewhere. There’s a good reason for this phenomenon.
The same factors that initially put a roadblock in his career have turned Michael Gregoritsch into an elite goal threat. His time spent lurking outside of his learned position turned out to be an apprenticeship in making offensive runs into space from behind. This experience, coupled with his naturally-given striker skill set make for an explosive combination.
Watch: Gregoritsch puts his full skill set to good use against Hannover!
We already mentioned his height, which make him an obvious aerial threat. However, it’s his deadly left foot, which the player claims is a family heirloom that sets him apart from the rest: seven of his 13 Bundesliga goals this season came off his preferred boot.
All of these factors have made Gregoritsch into the Bundesliga’s highest scoring player who does not play primarily as a centre-forward ahead of Hertha Berlin’s Salomon Kalou at 11 goals. In fact, the Austrian’s exploits put him right up there amongst the most elite players in Europe.
Only four non-full-strikers across the top four leagues have scored more than Gregoritsch: Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (21), Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo (24), Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling (18) and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (31).
Golden Boot contenders aside, Augsburg’s top scorer can boast about being ahead of names like Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale (12) or Atalanta’s Josip Ilicic (11), Italy’s top scorer not playing mainly as a centre-forward.
While Augsburg are content with their season, having stayed far away from the relegation fight, the Alpine goal getter is aiming for greater heights next season. “Officially, we never looked towards the top, but I’d be lying if I said that nobody wanted to have a glance”, said one of Europe’s most dangerous non-strikers.
Jaime Duque Cevallos