A scouting report from Switzerland, that is Dave’s (@goonerdave66) latest idea; and what a glorious idea that is. I have a unique opportunity to let people know that my soon-to-be country has one of the best-organized and productive youth academies you might find.
Here in Switzerland, discipline and work come before pure talent and there’s no place for primadonnas; to a certain extent, football is a good reflection of Swiss people attitude – something I always found fascinating and reassuring.
All of the youth national teams are asked to play the same formation, same style and basically same football, to make it easy for young players to step into the senior team once they are ready; it’s a similar approach to the one used by big Clubs, but on a bigger scale.
And it works.
If you consider that only eight million people live in Switzerland and football is not the national sport, results recorded by Swiss football are quite impressive: the national team failed to qualify to only one of the past six major tournaments, reached the final in U21 Euros in 2009 and were crowned U17 World champions the same year – defeating the likes of Brazil (Neymar, Casemiro), Italy (Perin, El Shaarawy) and Germany (Ter-Stegen, Mustafi, Götze) in the process.
Switzerland managed to build a very promising group of players, their own Class of 1992, and it is surprising to see that almost none of them have been monitored by Premier League Clubs; as per today, the only player to win the U17 World Cup still on the books of a top-flight English Club is goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist – currently at Aston Villa but nowhere near the first team.
Arsène Wenger tried his luck with defender Sead Hajrovic but things didn’t go very well and the player was released two years ago.
Either Swiss prospects have a real bond with Bundesliga or – and it’d be hurtful for the Arsenal and some other Premier League teams – Germans spot Swiss talents before anyone else; I reckon the language is an advantage, although Swiss German is not German, and some of these players prefer to gain experience in a Bundesliga mid-table team before trying their luck at a higher level, however plenty of youth players could have been a very good investments for any Premier League top Club.
Many of the names you see in this scouting report will sound familiar already, which is also a sign of the quality of Swiss youngsters, but I definitely expect a couple of them to move one or two levels up and become regulars at big Clubs anytime soon.
The first name that springs to my mind is Xherdan Shaqiri (born in 1991) is already a leader for the senior national team and is currently playing for Inter, in Italy, after a first spell at Bayern Munich; a very creative player, he can operate anywhere in midfield and is more than capable to provide an assist of score goals himself. I believe it’d be harsh to consider his time at Bayern as a failure, he deputised for Robben and Ribéry quite well and decided to leave to get more minutes.
I expect him to be one of the best players in Italy next season.
Another player which will show great things is Ricardo Rodriguez (1992), currently playing at left-back for Wolfsburg and providing amazing crosses for The Lord Bendtner or more often Bas Dost; very solid defensively and quick, the full-back is gifted with a great left-foot and a free-kick specialist; imagine a more powerful, quicker and younger Leighton Baines but with a horrible haircut.
Jokes aside, in my opinion he’s already one of the best left-back around and Arsène Wenger should definitely keep tabs on him to replace Nacho Monreal; I’m afraid he wouldn’t come cheap, anyway. He is currently being linked with a move to Old Trafford. ( Let’s all laugh at Luke Shaw)
Close to these two outstanding players, we can find some very good prospect like all-round midfielder Granit Xhaka (1992), currently at Borussia Monchengladbach together with fellow Swiss and excellent goalkeeper Yann Sommer: his long-pass range is already very good and could become one of the best around; despite playing with #10 in the national team, he is more of a deep playmaker who likes to make the team tick and be massively involved in the build-up. One aspect he could improve is also the shooting, since he could easily score around ten goals per season.
Another good player slipped under the radars is defender Fabian Schär (1991), who just completed his move from FC Basel to TSG 1899 Hoffenheim for a bargain price of £ 4m; he can play at centre-half or right-back and is one of those old-fashioned, no-nonsense defenders that are becoming more and more difficult to find. He’s very solid, excellent on aerial balls and, at 23 years of age, he has some very interesting potential: I am ready to bet that a top Club will pay four to five times the fee invested by Hoffenheim, in less than three years.
We were heavily linked to the player in January and I really hoped the transfer could happen, Arsène Wenger decided to buy Gabriel instead – assuming there was any actual interest, of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if we keep an eye on him, after all he’s still quite young for a defender.
Honorable mentions for versatile forward Admir Mehmedi (1991), who signed for Bayer Leverkusen a few days ago; goalkeeper Roman Bürki (1990), who moved to Borussia Dortmund and could really dislodge Weidenfeller from between the posts and Pajtim Kasami (1992) who finally came of age at Olympiacos and seems on the verge to join one of the top leagues in Europe.
A quick word on strikers Haris Seferović (1992), currently enjoying some very good football at Eintracht Frankfurt, and Josip Drmić (1992), the man Löthar Mätthaus was sure was going to be at the Emirates Stadium this season: the former showed glimpses of class at Real Sociedad with former Gunner Carlos Vela and Antoine Griezmann, the latter is still struggling to settle as he swapped Nurnberg for Bayer Leverkusen two seasons ago and Bayer Leverkusen for Borussia Monchengladbach this summer.
Very mobile and composed in front of goal, he could be a good surprise in the Bundesliga and put some top Clubs on alert.
Last but not least, the hottest prospect of Swiss football: Breel Embolo (1997)
Born in Yaoundé, the forward has recently made his full debut with Switzerland senior team at the age of 18 and is considered as a star in the making; speedy although powerful, he is a modern attacker who can play across the offensive line and pop into the box either centrally or from the flanks – he could easily be labeled as one of those False Nines that Arsène Wenger seems to like a lot (*hint).
Impressive in the Champions League against Real Madrid and Liverpool, he’s believed to be monitored by many top Clubs already; he’s very unlikely to leave FC Basel this summer, he needs playing time to develop his strengths and address his weakness, hence the best option would be to stay at home.
He should avoid repeating the mistake made by Nassim Ben Khalifa (1992), at any cost: the latter decided to leave Grasshopper in the aftermath of the World Cup triumph to join Wolfsburg, where he managed to play ZERO minutes in the Bundesliga in four seasons and registered only six appearances for the second team; after some unsuccessful loan spells, he decided to go back home to Zürich but the feeling is that he wasted some very important time and missed the opportunity to complete his development.
Naturally gifted on technical side, the creative attacking midfielder was dubbed as the next big thing of Swiss football but has since faded a little bit; not a regular at Grasshoppers, he needs a firm turn of fortune to have the career his talent should grant him; still 23 years old, time is definitely on his side.
Embolo seems to have more about him though and although his contract is until 2019 he is unlikley to stay in Switzerland that long. Arsenl are watching his progress and he is a Wenger style player. The youngster himslef has spoken of Barca, which illustrates his self belief, Someone needs to tell him the customary route to the Camp Nou is via the Emirates!!
Swiss football is definitely producing some excellent young footballers; it could make all the difference in the world if some of them could gain some valuable experience abroad at very young age, because at the moment many of them seem unable to go to the top level.
Where the likes of Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou and failed – and only Bergkamp knows what we endured with these two at the heart of our defensive line – the new generation could succeed: Stephan Lichtsteiner is showing the way to be successful at very top level, now it’s up to these young fellas to fit into the big shoes.