FC Zurich are optimistic about repeating last season’s success.
By Nick Bidwell
Reigning champions and title winners in three of the past four seasons, Zurich are favourites to dominate once again.
Continuity is FCZ’s trump card, with jovial but demanding French-speaking coach Bernard Challandes making relatively few changes to a squad that will hope to simply carry from where they left off last term.
Only two new faces of note have come in – international attacking midfielder Johan Vonlanthen on a season-long loan from Salzburg and Lucerne’s Serb midfielder Milan Gajic – while departures have been kept to a minimum. Rumour has it that playmaker Almen Abdi is on the shopping list of Serie A’s Udinese, but even if he does go the management need look no further than Yassine Chikhaoui as the Tunisian is fit again following a long spell on the sidelines with a recurring knee complaint.
Conversely, it’s been all change at St Jakob-Park after Basle finished a disappointing third last term. With the authority of coach Christian Gross plainly on the wane after a decade in charge, president Gigi Oeri decided the time was right was to sack the most successful boss in the club’s history and hand the reins to ex-Bayern Munich midfielder and Salzburg assistant coach Thorsten Fink.
The new broom has certainly been sweeping clean, notably insisting on a more cultured playing style and dumping a host of first-teamers, such as long-serving Serb midfielder Ivan Ergic, from the squad. Meanwhile, Switzerland’s record scorer Alex Frei retuens from Borussia Dortmund and other newcomers include Brazilian midfielder Antonio Da Silva on loan from Karlsruhe, Turkey central defender Cagdas Atan from Energie Cottbus and young Ghanian right-back Samuel Inkoom from Asante Kotoko.
The club also have high hopes for a crop of talented youngsters, such as 17-year-old Swiss-Kosovan midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, but with Switzerland striker Eren Derdiyok joining Bayer Leverkusen, and the experienced front man Marco Streller remaining injury prone, scoring enough goals could be a problem.
Many believe that Berne club Young Boys, runners-up in the past two seasons, have haemorrhaged too much talent to remain contenders after popular striker Thomas Haberli opted to retire and key midfielders Carlos Varela and Christian Schwegler moved on to Neuchatel Xamax and Salzburg respectively.
However the sceptics forget the team-building and strategic wiles of coach Vladimir Petkovic and the ability still at the club. Captain and midfielder Mario Raimondi is a sure source of goals and assists, while they also boast the league’s top scorer last term in Ivorian striker Seydou Doumbia.
Grasshopper opted to go down the old boy route when searching for a successor to Hanspeter Latour as head coach and plumped for former star Ciriaco Sforza. He can be relied upon to fire up his new charges but, all in all, the quality is spread too thinly to mount an enduring championship challenge. They will especially miss Argentinian striker Raul Bobadilla who is now with Borussia Monchengladbach.
As residents of the top flight since 1981, Aarau are not known as “the team they cannot relegate” for nothing. Polish coach Ryszard Komornicki may have given way in the dugout to Jeff Saibene, but the recipe for survival will be the same: limitless spirit, good organisation, naked aggression in the tackle and the ability to make the most of the goalscoring chances which come their way. Captain and deep-lying forward Sandro Burki is their talisman.
The pride of the Italian-speaking Ticino region, Bellinzona have one aim – and that is to stay out of trouble. Compact, hard-working and sharp on the break, they will rely heavily on the goalscoring instincts of Mauro Lustrinelli, Gurkan Sermeter and Under-21 star Alessandro Ciarrocchi.
Pierre-Andre Schurmann, who recently took over as Neuchatel Xamax coach from former national skipper Alain Geiger, might find it hard to keep the wolf from the door over the next 10 months. Reasons to believe, however, can be found in crafty right-sided midfielder Carlos Varela and Nigerian striker Ideye Aide Brown.
It is wise to always expect the unexpected from Swiss Cup holders Sion, who are not exactly known for their consistency and could finish anywhere between fourth and ninth. A good sign is the impressive man management of French coach Didier Tholot. Much less encouraging was the sale of his compatriot Olivier Monterrubio, who takes his lively front running to Lorient in Ligue 1.
Lucerne only stayed up by beating Lugano in the play-offs, but the side coached by Rolf Fringer ought not to be fighting the drop this season. They demonstrated their ambitions by signing Switzerland playmaker Hakan Yakin from Al Gharafa of Qatar.
Newly promoted St Gallen will be looking to trade for as long as they can on the element of surprise. Coach Uli Forte has them well drilled and they have picked up two useful reinforcements in Liechtenstein striker Mario Frick from Siena and midfielder Kristian Nushi from Aarau.
Season starts July 11, 2009
Season ends May 2010