As we enter a new-era of football in regards to economic sustainability and evolving tactical trends, boards face a difficult task maintaining the brand image of the club, appeasing fans and trying to progress.
There is the top tier of untouchable clubs who, like big businesses, get constantly richer and keep football alive with a trickle down of capital – P.S.G, Chelsea, Manchester United/City, Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona – players strive for these clubs.
Then there is a secondary tier of clubs who provide a safe shop window for investors – Liverpool, Dortmund, Benfica, Porto, Atletico, Shakhtar. The regimentation of slow moving status has created a whole new degree of self-awareness for clubs, who know who their main rivals are in the transfer market and compete with these clubs for potential.
It is unlikely we will ever see another ‘Red Star’ who bypass economic restrains to achieve romantic glory. However, the most organised and forward thinking boards can overachieve and rise up the tiers. Ajax, Feyenoord, Sevilla, Everton and Basel are self-aware clubs whose board members and chairmen have a philosophy of progress that goes beyond the managers in charge and the players who wear the shirt.
They understand that, in capitalist football, all staff are up for sale and will only remain at the club until they have reached their peak. The best businessmen know when to cash in before hitting a glass ceiling.
The focus of this article is Basel. However I felt it necessary to offer the reader a context of where the club stand in Europe and why they operate in the way they do.
Bernhard Heusler is a young, innovative president. He is not shy of public attention, giving lectures in the evenings at conferences and universities. Quite contemporary, even for the modern game, Heusler likes to be on top of the firm and invests almost all of his time.
‘The most important thing’ he told TagesWoche ‘is that we create a foundation of trust in the whole company.’ The framework of the club is a professional one, which allows for continuity upon the replacement of coaching staff.
A lot of hostility was given when young manager Heiko Vogel was sacked, despite him winning a league title. However Heusler denies that he is cold, saying that football should not be decided by emotion. He could see that progress had to be made on a European level and rode the wave of Murat Yakin.
Bernhard, sitting comfortably at the restaurant table for his interview, spoke with pleasure of being the president of a club with no debt, like FC Bayern. He says the foundations of the club were laid perfectly in the new-millennia thanks to the five league titles but complacency must be avoided; ‘there is nothing more “Uninteressanteres” than to talk about past successes…the vision is to reinvent ourselves over and over.’
How can the club do that in an attempt to go up a tier? The constant progressive ‘financial investment in potential growth’ (as written about here) is adopted, as we will discuss later on.
It is hard to classify the rivalry between both Zurich and Basel having never visited either city. However, many articles have determined that a degree of ill feeling has stemmed from the amount of money in Zurich, with Basel locals resenting the pretentiousness seen in Zurich, being more proud of their working mentality, museums and culture.
Nevertheless, as is often the case, football has been seen as a vehicle to promote hatred between the two cities; mostly because of FC Basel’s emergence as serious challengers to Grasshopper Zurich’s stronghold over the Swiss game (holders of 27 league titles prior to Basel’s 2002 reemergence (following 22 years without a title), who had 9 at the time).
A passionate hatred is also felt for the second team of the city, FC Zurich; especially as FC Zurich ‘stole’ the league from Basel in 2006 in a game that could have seen either team named champions. Ironically FC Basel and FC Zurich are united by one of football’s greatest names, Hans (Joan) Gamper, who captained one club and founded the second, before founding FC Barcelona and adopting Basel’s blaugrana colors.
According to the financial investment in potential growth theory (FiPG) – a misconception of moneyball – a club of Basel’s stature must grow by investing in talented players under the age of 24 from clubs from a lower standard league. The club did this perfectly with Mohamed Salah, signing him from the Egyptian club El Mokawloon, letting him develop in a less competitive domestic league (similar to the Eredevisie or Jupiler league), promoting his talents on a European stage and cashing in on his potential.
A sustainable form of FiPG is to promote young talent consistently from the youth academy. The academy has been in operation fully since 1999 and has seen 40 players make a first team debut since then. As the club’s stature has grown thanks to its consistent European success over the last few years, the revenue acquired has gradually increased; (taken from transfermarkt.net)
2014 – Yann Sommer – £7.4m
2014 – Valentin Stocker – £3m
2012 – Xherdan Shaqiri* – £10.3m
2012 – Granit Xhaka* – £7.5m
2007 – Ivan Rakitic* – £4m
2006 – Zdravko Kuzmanović* – £2.4m
2003 – Marco Streller – £2m
2003 – Hakan Yakin* – £1.4m
It is worth pondering whether or not the conveyor belt of talent that has come through Basel’s academy will cease in the future as Switzerland have recently voted against immigration: consider that all of the players above with * next to their names are migrants.
As the club continues to progress, becomes more valuable and challenges for greater honors, it will probably receive higher fees for the likes of Derlis Gonzalez (signed from Benfica B). FC Basel are quickly gaining a ‘Dutch’ reputation, as a club who are able to consistently produce talented players who are capable of playing on the highest stage – whether they be produced through their academy or through their scouting system. Dutch clubs such as Ajax and PSV are regarded as ‘safe’ by clubs of a higher tier, as their players, for the most part, are talented and resiliant enough to compete at the highest levels of the game.
The club generates an annual revenue of $89.6m, with the academy costing $3m.
Sousa boasted upon signing for Basel how ambitious he is, saying he expects to win the Champions League as a manager in his career. Many people shunned his bold statement because of his previously average career so far; however, it’s not where you’re from, as Johnny Depp tells in Public Enemies, it’s where you’re going. Sousa needs to prove his credentials as a top European manager soon but whether he is capable of winning the Champions League with Basel is, well, 500/1 with SkyBet…
Below is a table of the most features players for FC Basel this season, provided by TagesWoche;
Under Yakin last season Basel played a proactive 3-2-3-2 formation, with both Degen’s wide of Stocker in the middle, ahead of two holding midfielders, Suchy as the focal CB, and a LCB and a RCB keeping passing variations alive in the deepest half-spaces. Streller, previously acted as a partner for Sio and other strikers, but under Paolo Sousa the system has changed somewhat.
Sousa likes to vary between a 4-3-3 and a 3-3-4 depending on the opposition. Against Real Madrid he opted to play a flat back four to cut off most of the width Real attack. However, against Ludogorets Basel played with a formation difficult to classify. Three defenders at the back, another horizontal line of three, then Gashi, Gonzalez and Zuffi playing off Embolo. The result was a 4-0 victory against a confident team of mostly South American players.
These Basel players are not household names yet, but they will be before too long; especially the goalkeeper Vaclik who has a long career ahead of him.
The switch of play for Basel is key. A lot of the buildup goes through Gonzalez and Zuffi before a late switch to Gashi, who is thriving with the freedom to roam forward. Sousa preaches that variety is key, and with his team at present he likes to rotate between patient build up play and long (not to be confused with high balls) diagonal switches. They play with a lot of speed and confidence which has resulted in 40 goals scored in 18 league games. Perhaps tonight they will gain another famous European victory against Liverpool, although this is unlikely. Liverpool have hit a decent run of form and have invested a lot more in their squad for this season. What is for certain, though, is several members of the current Basel squad will soon be stepping up to the tier Liverpool find themselves on at present.