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