One club, two coun­tries: life as Euro­pean un­der­dogs

Mixed feel­ings as Vaduz drop to Swiss sec­ond tier

World Soccer - - Special Feature -

“Quite a lot of clubs do not like Vaduz and would rather have an­other French-speak­ing club in the Super League” Hans Thony, a for­mer Vaduz direc­tor

Af­ter a three-year stay in the Swiss Super League, Vaduz were rel­e­gated to the sec­ond-tier Chal­lenge League – and the ab­sence of the Liecht­en­steiner club this sea­son is not be­ing mourned.

The pres­ence of a for­eign team in their top flight, while big-name lo­cal sides such as Zurich, Servette and Neucha­tel Xa­max have laboured in the divi­sion be­low irked some in Switzer­land.

“We have quite a good re­la­tion­ship with clubs like Basle, FC Zurich and Sion, but quite a lot of clubs, es­pe­cially in the west, do not like Vaduz and would rather have an­other French-speak­ing club in the Super League,” claims Hans Thony, a for­mer Vaduz direc­tor who is now head of one of their three fan clubs.

Zurich went up at the end of last term and re­placed Vaduz, whose de­mo­tion was at least eased by yet an­other stint in the Europa League af­ter beat­ing USV Eschen/ Mau­ren in the Liecht­en­stein Cup Fi­nal.

A de­ci­sion by the Liecht­en­steiner Fuss­bal­lver­band (LFV) to al­ter­nate the Fi­nal be­tween the na­tional sta­dium in Vaduz and the only other UEFA-rated ground in Eschen failed to help the hosts as Vaduz romped home in front of less than 1,000 fans in an at­mos­phere that felt more vil­lage fete than UEFA qual­i­fi­ca­tion. Cow bells chimed and the aroma of silage from the nearby fields smoth­ered the smell of siz­zling bratwurst and beer.

The LFV’s new youth coach, Mario Frick, did not help the at­ten­dance by hold­ing a coach­ing ses­sion at the same time. And the sched­ul­ing of that ses­sion says a great deal about both the role of Vaduz and also the Liecht­en­stein Cup.

Foot­ball in Liecht­en­stein be­gan in 1932 with the for­ma­tion of three clubs: Balz­ers, Triesen and Vaduz. The LFV was formed two years later and in 1945-46 a cup com­pe­ti­tion was staged, with Triesen beat­ing Vaduz in the Fi­nal.

To­day, Liecht­en­stein still only has seven clubs and a na­tional league is not vi­able, so the cup com­pe­ti­tion is the only route into Europe and some UEFA prize money.

Vaduz are the coun­try’s only full-time club and, un­sur­pris­ingly, have won 19 of the last 20 Fi­nals. USV broke that run in 2012, with a fa­mous win on penal­ties, but the cur­rent USV team is a shadow of that side. Af­ter Vaduz trounced Triesen 18-0 in this year’s semi-fi­nals, few an­tic­i­pated an­other Fi­nal shock. And af­ter USV went be­hind af­ter a minute, Vaduz won 5-1.

With na­tional-team stal­warts Peter Jehle and Franz Burgmeier miss­ing the Fi­nal through in­jury, highly rated de­fender Max Gop­pel was the only player from Liecht­en­stein to start the game for Vaduz.

In the sec­ond-half of last sea­son’s Swiss Super League, Lau­sanne-Sport fielded club-trained play­ers for 30.8 per cent of the squad’s total play­ing time. Vaduz had the low­est fig­ure at just 3.3 per cent.

“We have the most play­ers from within Switzer­land,” ar­gues Thony. “Play­ers who

can­not get into the first XI at St Gallen or Basle, we are pick­ing up these play­ers.”

How­ever, that is not help­ing the con­nec­tion be­tween Liecht­en­stein­ers and their most suc­cess­ful club.

Backed by lo­cal con­glom­er­ate MBPI, Vaduz reached the Super League for the first time in 2008 but the lo­cals did not re­spond and crowds av­er­aged 2,200 as the team fin­ished bot­tom of the ta­ble.

The ap­point­ment of Swiss coach Gior­gio Con­tini in 2012 proved a turn­ing point and Vaduz re­turned to the Super League in 2014, with Con­tini man­ag­ing to keep them up for two sea­sons de­spite a bud­get of around SFr5.5mil­lion that was eas­ily the small­est in the league.

Liecht­en­stein has a total pop­u­la­tion of 35,000 – of which 5,000 are in

Vaduz – but the club’s hege­mony makes the club un­pop­u­lar out­side the cap­i­tal.

USV Eschen/Mau­ren vice-pres­i­dent Markus Kaiser says: “Some­times it’s hard to be a USV fan and back Vaduz, but we ap­pre­ci­ate what they are do­ing. Some­times a player can move up from USV to Vaduz and that is good.”

Hans Thony is more di­rect and ar­gues: “Sup­port from other clubs is very small, al­most non-ex­is­tent. Some­one from Balz­ers would rather not go to a foot­ball match than watch Vaduz.”

Gates at Vaduz im­proved last sea­son to an av­er­age of 3,800 as the club found sup­port across the bor­der in St Gallen and Grisons, with Swiss fans tak­ing up the cause of the un­likely in­ter­lop­ers.

Vaduz’s role as the un­der­dog was ce­mented by a deal struck by the LFV and their Swiss coun­ter­parts be­fore the club’s first pro­mo­tion that means Vaduz must pay SFr1m to play in the Super League even though they can never win it.

“Vaduz can never be Swiss cham­pi­ons even if we have the most points,” says Thony. “If we fin­ish top on 70 points and Basle fin­ished sec­ond on 68 points, the ta­ble would show us top but Basle would go into the Cham­pi­ons League.”

LFV pres­i­dent Hugo Quaderer de­fends the deal and the dom­i­nance of Vaduz, ex­plain­ing: “I think it’s best for Vaduz and best for Liecht­en­stein foot­ball.

“It’s im­por­tant that we have a pro­fes­sional club struc­ture in place for young play­ers from Liecht­en­stein.”

Euro­pean com­peti­ton is only avail­able via the coun­try’s do­mes­tic cup, and last sea­son Vaduz made the third qual­i­fy­ing round of the Europa League, only to stum­ble against Swiss league ri­vals Thun.

This sea­son they beat Welsh side Bala Town in the first round but were then knocked out 2-0 on ag­gre­gate by Nor­we­gian side Odd.

The Swiss sec­ond-tier Chal­lenge League is pro­fes­sional but wages are low, and af­ter rel­e­ga­tion a swathe of ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers left Vaduz.

Al­ba­nian striker Al­bion Avdi­jaj joined

Grasshop­pers, while swiss in­ter­na­tional Moreno costanzo went to thun and his mid­field part­ner si­mone Grippo signed for spain’s Real Zaragoza. ex­pe­ri­enced Liecht­en­stein in­ter­na­tional ni­co­las hasler moved to toronto.

Vaduz coach Roland Vrabec brought in a dozen new play­ers, in­clud­ing sene­galese for­ward Mo­hamed coulibaly from Logrones, Ukrainian in­ter­na­tional Marko De­vic from Ros­tov and Ger­man mid­fielder ni­co­las Jul­lich from son­nen­hof, as well as Liecht­en­stein un­der-21 keeper Ar­mando Ma­jer from Ger­man side Mannschaft.

the coun­try’s sec­ond-big­gest club are Balz­ers, who play in the swiss fourth-tier Liga clas­sic along with UsV.

“For play­ers at a club like Balz­ers, they will train three or four times a week and also be work­ing from nine to five,” says Daniel Bran­dle, a na­tional team mid­fielder who played for st An­drews in Malta last sea­son. “they use their an­nual hol­i­days to play for the na­tional team.

“that’s no good if you have a girl­friend or a fam­ily. the work ethic is so high here that it’s dif­fi­cult to find a flex­i­ble em­ployer. that’s why so many play­ers fo­cus on their jobs when they get to 25. it’s one of our big­gest prob­lems.”

Af­ter leav­ing st An­drews this sum­mer, Bran­dle headed to Manch­ester in search of a club in the higher ech­e­lons of the english non-league pyra­mid and a few of his fel­low coun­try­men have trod a sim­i­lar path over­seas. Yan­ick Frick, a teenage striker who is son of Mario Frick, is cur­rently in the re­serves at Austrian top-flight side Al­tach, while mid­fielder san­dro Wieser is on loan at Roe­se­lare in Bel­gium from Read­ing.

Like many na­tional coaches of smaller coun­tries, Rene Pauritsch has to con­tend with a lack of game-time for play­ers who go look­ing for a con­tract over­seas, so to bol­ster his squad the Austrian looked abroad and un­earthed Aus­tria-born mid­fielder Mar­cel Buchel, who is with Verona in italy and cen­giz Bicer, who plays for Kas­ta­monus­por in turkey.

Pauritsch kept Liecht­en­stein off the bot­tom of their euro 2016 qual­i­fy­ing group by tak­ing four points from Moldova but his side fared less well in the 2018 World cup qual­i­fiers, be­ing thrashed 8-0 both home and away by spain.

With vet­er­ans Martin stock­lasa re­tir­ing in 2014 af­ter win­ning 113 caps and Mario Frick hang­ing up his boots the fol­low­ing year, Pauritsch has had a dif­fi­cult task on the in­ter­na­tional stage. But at least the con­tin­u­ing do­mes­tic cup route into europe will give some lo­cal play­ers an early taste of con­ti­nen­tal com­pe­ti­tion.

Go­ing down...Vaduz de­fender Si­mone Grippo (cen­tre) fails to stop Gabriel Tor­res scor­ing for Lau­san­neS­port last sea­son

Cup Fi­nal...Vaduz (in red) take on USV Eschen/Mau­ren

At­mos­phere...a USV fan at the Fi­nal

Rhein­park Sta­dion...the na­tional team’s home

In­ter­na­tional...Mar­cel Buchel of Verona

rhein­park sta­dion... ahead of the World cup qual­i­fier against spain in septem­ber

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