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Swiss football is "healthy" despite Xamax woes

Xamax owner Bulat Chagaev has claimed he is a victim of a conspiracy AFP

The scandals that have threatened to engulf FC Neuchâtel Xamax for the past few months have finally caught up with it, but the long-term impact is still not clear.

This content was published on January 19, 2012 - 20:04
swissinfo.ch

Xamax was stripped of its licence on Wednesday and effectively kicked out of the league over allegations of financial misdeeds less than a year after being taken over by Chechen businessman Bulat Chagaev. Chagaev says he will appeal against the “repugnant” decision.

At a press conference in Zurich Swiss Football League (SFL) chairman Heinrich Schifferle told reporters that he felt the Xamax case had damaged Swiss football’s standing, already hit by FC Sion’s legal fights against Fifa, Uefa and Swiss football bodies bodies over the alleged fielding of ineligible players.

But Raffaele Poli, a football expert at the International Centre for the Study of Sport (CIES) at Neuchâtel University, did not quite agree.

“Swiss football continues to enjoy a very good reputation and is in very good health. The clubs have had good results recently, there are plenty of decent young players coming through and the league sells well abroad,” he told swissinfo.ch.

Illustrating his point, FC Basel is in the final 16 of the Champions League. The Swiss national side may have failed to qualify for the 2012 European Championships but is currently 16th in the Fifa world rankings with many of its young stars playing for big-name foreign clubs. The U-21, U-19 and U-17 national squads are also improving.

But the Xamax case would certainly not help the reputation of teams from the French-speaking region when compared against those in German-speaking Switzerland, said Poli.

This is the first time the SFL has stripped a club of its licence, although between 1993 and 2006 Wettingen, Lugano, Lausanne-Sport and Servette (of Geneva) were all relegated at one time or another for going bust.

The success rate of past takeovers by foreign owners in French-speaking Switzerland is also poor, whether it be Marc Roger at FC Servette, Waldemar Kita at FC Lausanne-Sport, Gilbert Kadji at FC Sion, Alain Pedretti at Xamax or Antonio Tacconi at FC La Chaux-de-Fonds.

“Got what we deserved”

Football fans and the Swiss press are still digesting the dramatic decision by the Swiss Football League (SFL) to withdraw Xamax’s licence and its apparent inevitable demotion by at least two divisions as well as possible bankruptcy.

The story was splattered across most front pages on Thursday with titles such as, “Game over”, “A dream destroyed” and “Bulat Chagaev killed NE Xamax”.

Gilbert Gress, a former Xamax trainer, said he was not that surprised by the SFL move: “We got what we deserved. Chagaev is not the only one who made mistakes; his predecessors also made some. But when he arrived and fired everyone from the offices and team we understood that he had neither education nor respect.”

  

Nicolas Willemin, editor-in-chief of the Neuchâtel-based L’Express/Impartial newspaper, said it had been obvious for some time that the plug had to be pulled.

“The club has been in a deep coma and now it’s dead,” he told swissinfo.ch. “People here are sad as the club did alright and was a kind of ambassador for Neuchâtel. But the news is not that surprising as everyone knew it just couldn’t continue like that.” 

Hands-on style

Chagaev took over the struggling first division side last May, saying he wanted to take Xamax into the Champions League. But his hands-on management style quickly lost him many friends.

Over the past eight months he has sacked four coaches, faced a boycott by fans and dismissed numerous players, including the captain. He also sacked the entire administrative staff and parted company with all the club’s sponsors.

Erich Vogel, another former Xamax trainer, told the German-language Tages-Anzeiger: “[former owner] Sylvio Bernasconi should never have sold the club to someone so dodgy. But he wanted to make as much money as possible.”

The SFL rejects any responsibility for the Xamax mess. The existing club licence was transferred from owner to owner in May, so “it was not possible to ask for financial documents at the time” and financial problems only became apparent from September onwards, said SFL spokesman Philippe Guggisberg.

In November it closed the regulation loophole to ensure new owners provide the proper financial documents.

Unpaid wages and fake document

SFL officials said the decision to withdraw Xamax’s licence was the “only credible sanction”.

“We did not receive the documents showing that the first team has the financial means to complete the Super League season,” said Daniele Moro, president of the SFL’s disciplinary panel.

The league detailed Xamax’s failings that included unpaid players’ wages and submitting allegedly fake Bank of America documents designed to confirm that Chagaev had access to $35 million.

The mysterious entrepreneur, who owns two Geneva-based companies, is at the centre of Swiss criminal investigations into suspected fraud regarding these documents.

Chagaev, who has claimed he is a victim of a conspiracy, told Swiss national TV he would not leave the sinking ship and said he planned to appeal.

“We will show the Swiss justice system that what the league did was dishonest and repugnant,” he told the cameras.

The Chechen also blames Bernasconi for having left behind SFr3.5-6 million in unpaid debts when he sold the club.

NEUCHÂTEL XAMAX

Neuchâtel Xamax were formed in 1970 by the merger of two clubs and the team have won the Swiss league twice, in 1987 and 1988.

Sylvio Bernasconi was chairman and owner of the club from June 2005 to May 2011. Over the past few seasons it is thought he helped cover the club’s annual debts.
 
The team was fourth in the 10-team Swiss Super League before losing their licence. If an expected appeal fails, Xamax would be demoted to the third tier, and the fourth tier upon bankruptcy.

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Chronology

May 12: Bulat Chagaev officially takes over Xamax.

May 29: during half-time at the Swiss Cup Final Chagaev is reported to have entered the dressing room as Xamax trailed Sion, shouting “I’ll kill you all” to motivate his players.

May 30: former FC Zurich coach Bernard Challandes is fired.

June 2: Xamax administrative staff resign.

July 24: Chagaev dismisses sporting director, former Barcelona and Brazil striker Sonny Anderson, his coaching staff and three first team players.

July 28: Chagaev claims to be a victim of a conspiracy against him.

August 23: Xamax’s newly appointed chairman Andrei Rudakov receives his marching orders. Sponsors and fans start to desert the club.

September 2: coach Joaquin Caparros is fired.

September 20: Chagaev dumps main supporters’ club.

September 29: first complaint by Swiss Football League for lack of information during takeover.

October 5: Xamax agent files bankruptcy case against club.

October 13: Players’ union calls for strike for non-payment of salaries.

October 30: sporting director Christophe Moulin is fired.

November 2: SFL fine Xamax SFr20,000 ($21,400) for irregular payment of social security contributions and players' wages.

November 8: two penal procedures are opened for forgery and attempted fraud. The SFL files a third legal complaint over wages.

November 18: Neuchâtel prosecutor declares that Bank of America documents which confirmed Chagaev had access to $35 million are fake.

November 24 Chagaev is formally charged with forgery.

December 14: SFL deduct four points for disciplinary procedures.

January 4: club captain Stéphane Besle and three other players are fired.

January 18: SFL withdraws Xamax licence.

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