Switzer­land

World Soccer - - Contents - Nick Bid­well

What has hap­pened to the usu­ally sure-footed Basle, the big­gest and most pres­ti­gious club in Switzer­land? Once om­nipo­tent in their own land, win­ning eight con­sec­u­tive cham­pi­onships be­tween 2010 and 2017, they now lie blood­ied and bruised, a team to be pitied rather than feared.

Their long run of do­mes­tic dom­i­nance was brought to an end last spring by a re­nascent Young Boys, but they were widely ex­pected to spring into fight­back mode this term.

In­stead, they have com­pletely lost their way, sack­ing coach Raphael Wicky just two games into the new sea­son and tamely fail­ing to make the Cham­pi­ons

League cut, beaten 5-1 on ag­gre­gate by PAOK in the sec­ond qual­i­fy­ing round.

Wicky, in charge for just 12 months, ef­fec­tively paid the price for a string of poor re­sults in the sum­mer, with a 5-0 pre-sea­son hum­bling at the hands of Dutch side Feyeno­ord, a 2-1 loss at home to St Gallen on the first week­end of the Swiss Su­per League and the same score in the first leg at PAOK in Greece.

“We no longer had a good feel­ing [about Wicky],” ex­plains Basle di­rec­tor of sport Marco Streller. “We didn’t want to be ac­cused of wait­ing too long to take ac­tion. We had to as­sume re­spon­si­bil­ity. We were con­cerned by de­vel­op­ments, and when there’s not 100 per cent trust you have to re­act.

“Nat­u­rally, the sig­nif­i­cance of warm-up games should not be over­rated.

“How­ever we lost our last five games.

“The 5-0 against Feyeno­ord proved Ahead...Fer­nando Varela of PAOK puts pres­sure on Basle that some­thing wasn’t right. We wanted to start the new sea­son with Wicky.

“In hind­sight, that was the wrong de­ci­sion.” Streller claims Wicky prob­a­bly would have been fired much ear­lier if FCB had not per­formed so well in the Cham­pi­ons League last sea­son, beat­ing Ben­fica and Manch­ester United on their way to the round of 16, adding: “With­out such an un­be­liev­able Euro­pean campaign we might have opted for a dif­fer­ent course in the early part of the new year.”

Wor­ry­ing for Basle fans, even with Wicky gone – tem­po­rar­ily re­placed by the club’s youth-team leader, Alex Frei – there was no im­me­di­ate im­prove­ment when host­ing PAOK in the re­turn. Trail­ing 1-0 af­ter just seven min­utes, and three goals in ar­rears at the fi­nal whis­tle, FCB were as ab­ject as be­fore. No lead­ers, no team­work and no phys­i­cal stay­ing power.

As the crit­ics never tire of point­ing out, the cur­rent Basle squad is patently not strong enough. In the last two trans­fer win­dows far too many key play­ers have headed for the exit and they are badly miss­ing the likes of cen­tral de­fender Manuel Akanji (Borus­sia Dort­mund), left-winger Mo­hamed Ely­ounoussi (Southamp­ton), keeper To­mas Va­clik (Sevilla) and full-back Michael Lang (Borus­sia Monchenglad­bach).

In a sure sign of a crum­bling dy­nasty, many of Streller’s re­cruit­ment hunches have sim­ply not paid off, no­tably the deals to bring back old FCB mid­field favourites Valentin Stocker and Fabian Frei from the Bun­desliga.

To clear up the mess, Basle have sum­moned for­mer Grasshop­pers, Cologne, Bochum and Aus­tria boss Mar­cel Koller. Ar­riv­ing to sign his twoyear con­tract in his agent’s shiny black Bent­ley, Koller must some­how trans­form a beat-up jalopy into a top-of-the-range model. That might be ask­ing a lot. But at least he should make Basle road­wor­thy.

“When the heroes al­ways win in a movie, it’s bor­ing,” is a quote at­trib­uted to Basle pres­i­dent Bern­hard Bur­gener, who made his money as a film pro­ducer.

A penny for Bur­gener’s thoughts now?

“We wanted to start the new sea­son with Wicky. In hind­sight, that was the wrong de­ci­sion” Basle di­rec­tor of sport Marco Streller

Hum­bled...Serey Die (right) and Basle lost 5-0 to Feyeno­ord

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