One club, two countries: life as European underdogs
Mixed feelings as Vaduz drop to Swiss second tier
“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.
Rheinpark Stadion...the national team’s home
International...Marcel Buchel of Verona
Atmosphere...a USV fan at the Final
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
rheinpark stadion... ahead of the World cup qualifier against spain in september