After retiring from professional football, I decided to take a short-sabbatical from the sport. It was needed. For the last seventeen years I had dedicated every minute to football. I was exhausted, just as I were after the World Cup - probably the most fatigued I had ever felt heading into a new season, despite constant fitness tests to ensure I was ready for the start of the season. This break was more than justified.
Upon returning several months later, I immediately secured a job in England with Sky Sports, working as a pundit alongside the likes of Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, analysing games alongside the pair, breaking down miniscule details with pin-point criticism. Having freshly-retired, alongside Jamie, with Gary retiring two years prior; someone I had the honour of playing alongside during the 2010/11 campaign, I gave a modern insight to the views footballers had in certain situations and sought to deliver a refreshing approach to the network's analysis, alongside my two colleagues, often offering things the pair couldn't, such as the views of a foreign player coming into the Premier League.
However, I knew that working alongside both Gary and Jamie wouldn't be a long-term plan of mine. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and the duo were hilarious, yet professional and insightful, but I had other plans ahead. In my final few years at Manchester United, I discussed the potential of me studying for coaching badges with Sir Alex and the board. I was granted that request and began studying within weeks of such permission.
Working under Ferguson was great experience, it was like work-experience, in that sense. It was a great help and he was always willing to discuss things with me to develop my managerial prowess. I was learning from one of the greatest managers of all-time, someone who understood how to win things and at the highest level, too, everything you want as someone looking to learn the trade - a trade very different, surprisingly, from the role of a footballer.
I would continue to do this throughout my time in England, even when I worked at Sky. This was the ultimate aim - to make the transition into management and continue to strive for success, even after I had retired from playing the game I loved. So many of the world's elite had made that successful transition - from winning things as a player, to then winning things as a manager - yet so many had failed, too. The determination to be one of the successful individuals was what drove me on.
I successfully achieved my UEFA Continental Pro License in February 2016, at the age of thirty-five. Whilst I continued my studies, I continued to work for Sky, even briefly after I completed them. I always had my set-goals of working my way into management, but stepping away from the network in May that year - following the conclusion of the Premier League season - was a difficult decision, yet I was a professional at that point, given the many decisions I was forced to make throughout my career, so I knew it was a sacrifice I was making for the greater good.
The Austrian national team had diminished since the 2012 European Championships, a tournament in which we recorded a semi-final finish. A 2-0 loss to Spain, who extracted their revenge on us for beating them in the World Cup final in Johannesburg two years prior, ended our tournament. They would ultimately go on to win the entire competition, beating Italy comprehensively in the final, 4-0.
Head-coach Karel Brückner departed after the tournament, in which began our return to normality - as we slumped in the FIFA rankings and failed to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, finishing third behind Germany and Sweden in qualifying. It was a depressing realisation that we had simply overachieved in 2010 - and those heights would simply never be reached again.
We did, however, reach the European Championships in France, under new leadership once again. Marcel Koller led the nation into France with renewed optimism that Austria could perhaps once again achieve a respectable finish, after topping our qualification group - which contained Russia, Sweden, Montenegro, Liechtenstein and Moldova.
Drawn alongside Portugal, Iceland and Hungary in Group F, there was a great possibility to qualify from the group. However, a disappointing tournament followed, as we finished bottom of the group with just a single point to our names - obtained in a 0-0 draw with third-placed, and eventual winners, Portugal. This prompted the immediate resignation of Koller, who admitted he was "disappointed"
for the dismal showing in France.
The Austrian FA were swift in their next appointment. Former Sturm Graz head-coach Franco Foda was appointed on an initial two-year-deal. He would be tasked with leading Austria into World Cup qualifying, seeking to progress from Group D. Serbia, recent European Championship semi-finalists Wales, Republic of Ireland, Georgia and Moldova all awaited.
The Austrian media were quick to support Foda, viewing him as the right candidate to seek to propel Austria and guide them back into the World Cup after missing out in 2014 - despite winning the competition four years prior. Yet, there was still a lot of doubt surrounding him and the squad. Many supporters still hung on to hope they could once again see their country on the grandest stage, celebrating success once again, disillusioned by the reality of post-Brückner life.
Many understood the reality, though. They were ready for change under Foda. The qualification group we were placed in certainly didn't hand us a bye into Russia. But, it would pose questions for the new management, with challenges that would prepare the squad sufficiently for the competition, should they progress.
Was Franco Foda the right man for the job?
: He will certainly leave a legacy, especially in Austria. All will be revealed shortly!
: Outstanding indeed. It shall be interesting to see who is willing to hand Max the opportunity of management.
: Time will tell.