In the spring of 2020, it was time for a change of scenery for Christoph Urdl. After years in the academy at SK Sturm and over 50 appearances for the Graz second team, he needed a change. At the age of 21, the offensive player therefore began studying to become a teacher for the subjects of sports and history. Football-wise, he took a step back into amateur soccer and signed with Deutschlandsberger SC in the 3rd division.
That he not only plays with enthusiasm, but is also endowed with a great deal of talent, quickly became clear in his youth. Not only did coaches and other companions of his youth confirm his extraordinary abilities, but he also received proof of this in black and white. During his time in Sturm’s academy, training sessions at the skills.lab arena in Wundschuh were regularly on the agenda. In standardized assessments, all teams up to the pros were also tested there for their performance and the results were compared on an ongoing basis. “I saw in the U18s that my results didn’t drop from those of the first team. That was cool, of course,” Urdl remembers.
In general, training on the 320-square-meter artificial turf surface, surrounded by four automatic ball machines and high-definition screens, has always been special to him. “Especially for young players, it’s important that in a training system you don’t just get the ball and shoot it somewhere. That’s fun, but it doesn’t do much. It’s the many game-related exercises with different levels of difficulty that I enjoy there and that have also helped me progress over a longer period of time,” says Urdl. In addition, every player is gripped by ambition there: “You get immediate feedback and therefore know where you stand in the ranking compared to other players. So it happened that I’ve wanted to play an exercise again right away to break a record.”
Urdl then also delivered top performances and corresponding statistics in the 3rd league with Deutschlandsberg. From training session to training session and from game to game, things got better. At the end of his third season, he had 17 goals and 19 assists. He was the league’s top scorer. “The coach was counting on me and I was allowed to play my game. Of course, then you think to yourself again: why shouldn’t I make it to the Bundesliga after all?” says Urdl. His performances in the skills.lab Arena and the knowledge that he could keep up with professionals there in terms of performance also always made him believe in a future as a professional: “The dream of being a professional player had disappeared in between, but it was still in me.”
In the summer of 2023, TSV Hartberg, which has been part of the highest division in Austria since 2018, invited him to a training session. Around 30 talented players were given the opportunity to show their skills. Players from Australia, France, Belgium – and Christoph Urdl. “I really didn’t think I had much of a chance at the beginning and just wanted to give it a try,” he says.
The feeling was right, as was the performance, and when he was able to contribute three assists to his team in the final game, the invitation to train with the professional team was just a formality. A handful of talented players were given the chance to prove themselves once again, and Urdl was not only able to keep up with established first division professionals, he was also able to show off his play thanks to his overview, speed of movement and strong first contact.
As of July 2023, he was officially a player in the Austrian Bundesliga. “Chris is an absolute talent, who has proven over the last few years in the 3rd division how dangerous in front of the goal he is and how effectively he can put his teammates in the scene,” said Hartberg coach Markus Schopp when introducing Urdl. Incidentally, the relationship between the two played no role in the signing. “It’s no secret that Markus is my uncle. But he didn’t see any of my games at Deutschlandsberg, and at the sighting training only the final game. So I know that I achieved all this myself,” says Urdl.
In just his second short stint in the Bundesliga, he set up a goal, and in the third, away against SK Rapid, he completed an attack himself to score the winning goal. “A lot of things have happened very quickly, but that it happened so quickly was not expected. But there will be more difficult times to come,” Urdl remains grounded. Roland Goriupp, Head of Sports in the skills.lab team and thus one of the supporters of the now 24-year-old, has always encouraged him in his belief in his professional dream: “Based on his performances in the skills.lab Arena, we have seen for five years what Christoph’s capabilities are. That’s why I’m particularly pleased that he made the step up to professional football this summer.”
However, Urdl will not give up his teaching studies because of this. He’s just taking a break from it at the moment: “Even if I played for FC Barcelona, I wouldn’t give up my studies. There is also a life after football. And that’s at least as important as the time as a professional.”