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FC Basel set to resume triumphal march

Basel's players have had plenty to celebrate Keystone Archive

After kicking their heels for a couple of months, Switzerland’s footballers are back in action on Sunday as the Super League restarts after the winter break.

With unbeaten Basel holding a 14-point lead, attention is expected to focus on the relegation battle and those teams fighting for financial survival.

Having dropped only two points out of a possible 54 since the start of their campaign, there seems little doubt that Basel will be crowned champions come the end of May.

Already eliminated from the Uefa Cup and the Swiss Cup, coach Christian Gross’s players can devote all their energy to winning a tenth championship title.

The mid-season break saw two of the club’s stars – Swiss internationals Marco Streller and Hakan Yakin – join the German club, VfB Stuttgart.

But with a strong squad and an annual budget of SFr30 million ($24 million), Basel are not short on firepower and are still hungry for success.

“We want to win the title without losing a single match,” said skipper Murat Yakin, Hakan’s older brother.

Old rivalry

Basel take on Bern’s Young Boys in their opening match before facing old rivals – and last season’s champions – Grasshoppers Zurich, who endured a miserable start to the season, culminating in the departure of coach Marcel Koller.

Grasshoppers, currently languishing in seventh place, have been reinforced by Ricardo Cabanas, who returns after a short spell at French first division side Guingamp.

At the top of the table, it appears to be a two-horse race between Young Boys (2nd) and Servette Geneva (3rd) for the final, lucrative Champions League spot – assuming Basel qualify as Swiss champions.

The Geneva club could certainly do with the cash: it reportedly has debts of around SFr11 million.

The situation is so dire that the cantonal government had to step in with a SFr40,000 donation to cover Sunday’s match fee.

Potential English and Ukrainian investors have been sniffing around the club during the mid-season break but no one seems prepared to swallow the club’s debt.

The Servette faithful are now pinning their hopes on a Russian oil company bailing them out and ensuring that the newly-developed Stade de Genève sees regular football.

Financial crisis

The situation is also pretty desperate both on and off the field at FC Wil, a small club in northeastern Switzerland. Wil are an estimated SFr5 million in debt and are flirting with relegation.

The club recently received a donation of SFr150,000 from their Ukrainian investors – led by former European footballer of the year, Igor Belanov – but last week Wil’s main sponsors pulled out.

Nicholas Light, deputy licensing manager at the Swiss Football Association, admits that both Servette and Wil face an uncertain financial future.

“Of course we can offer our moral support but if the clubs are short of the money to run their business, then we have little option but to take away their professional licence,” he said.

Last year both Lausanne-Sports and FC Lugano went bankrupt and the clubs were subsequently dissolved.

Ironically, Swiss clubs are feeling the pinch at a time when the national team is enjoying a golden period.

Switzerland’s seniors have qualified for the finals of Euro 2004 in Portugal, while the under-21 team knocked out holders the Czech Republic to make it to the European finals in Germany in May.

Switzerland is also co-hosting the 2008 European Championships with Austria.

swissinfo with agencies

The Super League kicked off on July 16 and is due to end on May 22.
Switzerland’s top division was trimmed down this season from 12 clubs to ten.
The bottom club will automatically be relegated.

The major mid-season transfers were:

Hakan Yakin: Basel to VfB Stuttgart

Marco Streller: Basel to VfB Stuttgart

Ricardo Cabanas: Guingamp to Grasshoppers

Hilton: Servette to Bastia (on loan)

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR