Grasshoppers fire former hero

Koller knew the writing was on the wall after last weekend's defeat against FC Aarau Keystone

Switzerland’s most successful football club have sacked their manager following a dismal run of performances.

This content was published on October 3, 2003 - 17:04

Grasshoppers Zurich parted company with Marcel Koller one day after the side registered their fifth league defeat in a row.

Having spent more than 25 years in his first spell at Grasshoppers, first as a junior and then as a first team regular, Koller was hailed as a returning hero after steering the club to its 27th title in June.

But four months and one day later, the good times have come to an abrupt halt.

After failing to make it beyond the qualifying stages for the lucrative European Champions League competition, Grasshoppers have won just three of their opening 12 Swiss league matches.

And with eight defeats already this season, the club are now just two points above the league’s bottom spot - currently occupied by city rivals FC Zurich.

No improvement

Sacking the manager when things are going badly may not be the most original of solutions, but club president Thomas Gulich insisted that Koller had been given plenty of time.

“I don’t think you can say that we have simply followed the example of other clubs,” Gulich told swissinfo, “because we stuck with our manager through a long series of defeats.

“Now, though, we feel we have to act because despite all our patience we are seeing no tendency towards an improvement on the pitch.”

Tough parting

Koller, whose contract with Grasshoppers will be officially terminated at the end of October, has accepted the decision. But he admitted that his ties to the club made Thursday’s announcement especially tough.

“I have been with Grasshoppers for a total of 27 years, both as a player and as the manager,” Koller pointed out, “so the club’s decision is very difficult for me.

“But after losing five games in a row, it was my decision to approach the board and see what the best possible solution would be for the club.

“Of course I also hope that their decision is the right one, and that Grasshoppers can get themselves out of this sporting hole - starting with Sunday’s match against Thun.”

Relegation threat

Looking beyond the first game without Koller, general manager Georges Perego admitted that it was hard to imagine Grasshoppers securing the top two finish necessary for a place in next season’s Champions League.

But he insisted that the club should also not have to worry about the threat of relegation.

“I think either scenario is unlikely. Our main objective now is to raise the team mentally, find ourselves a new manager and start putting in some good performances.”

The Grasshoppers board says it hopes to have a replacement for Koller lined up by January. In the meantime former assistant coach Carlos Bernegger is set to take charge of the first team.

Bernegger won’t have much time to settle in before his first big match, however. Following Sunday’s game against Thun, Grasshoppers are due to travel to Croatia for the second leg of their UEFA Cup tie against Hadjuk Split.

The Swiss champions could only manage a 1-1 draw in the home leg, a performance they will have to improve upon if their European campaign is to offer any consolation for the surprisingly poor domestic season.

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich

In brief

Marcel Koller won seven Swiss league titles and five cup finals while playing for Grasshoppers.

Beginning his management career at FC Wil in 1997, Koller then moved to top division side St Gallen.

In 2000 he led St Gallen to the Swiss title, the club’s first championship win since 1904.

Koller returned as manager to Grasshoppers in 2002, leading the club to its 27th league title in June 2003.

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