Basel and Young Boys gamble for future success

For regular viewers of the Swiss Super League, this has been a season of surprises. The form of FC Zürich, currently running away with the title, has been startling, leaving both FC Basel and BSC Young Boys in the dust.

Lausanne Sport’s demise has been comparatively hard to watch, as the club sinks back towards the Challenge League at an alarming rate while simultaneously imploding off the pitch.

In the past few weeks, however, even more spanners have been thrown into the works, as both Basel and Young Boys parted ways with their Head Coaches. There’s no denying that each club have not lived up to their respective expectations this season, but it was still a shock to see Patrick Rahmen and David Wagner removed from their posts with so much of the campaign left to play.

Both clubs clearly felt that the time was up for their managers, but the question is: have they made the right call?

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Patrick Rahmen – FC Basel

Former Aarau coach Rahmen was hired by Basel, a club he represented as a player, back in 2020 as an assistant to their new coach, Ciriaco Sforza. Sforza’s job was the same as every Basel coach’s: win the title and qualify for Europe.

However, like many before him, Sforza was unable to achieve his targets and was summarily fired in April 2021, taking his assistant manager, Daniel Hasler, with him. Rahmen was put in charge of the team on a temporary basis, only to be confirmed a month later as the new, permanent, head coach.

It had been a promising start: Basel won 5 of their remaining 9 games, scoring 20 goals in the process. Despite a 4-0 defeat to Sion on the final day, they finished second and qualified for the inaugural Europa Conference League.

Despite an early return which saw Basel back in European action on July 22, the 2021/22 season followed on in pretty similar fashion. Rahmen’s side didn’t lose until game 13 of the season, then went another 7 games unbeaten before a loss to Young Boys in February. On December 31, the club even announced that Rahmen had signed an extension to his contract, taking him into 2023 as head coach.

In total, Basel had only lost two games in the league by the time Rahmen was shown the door. Coupled with the proximity to his new contract, and the fact the winter transfer window had just closed, many were left scratching their heads at the decision. Why now? Why not at the end of the season? Why had he just been given a contract if, as the club claimed, they weren’t happy with the team’s development?

The case some might make for removing Rahmen is that, while losses were few and far between, Basel had simply drawn too many games under his control. Of the 22 league games played before his departure, Basel had drawn 10, which saw them slip from first place on December 15 to third by February 19. There was very little chance of catching FC Zürich in the league as a result, and they had been knocked out of the Swiss Cup by third-tier Etoile Carouge in a Round of 16 upset.

The last hope for silverware this season is the Conference League, which Basel have performed well in so far, but considering the quality of opposition left in the tournament, it would be a monumental achievement to even reach the final.

So, after firing their last coach and promoting his assistant to the top job, Basel are trying the same again a year later. Will it pay off this time? Or will we be having the same conversation next season?

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David Wagner – BSC Young Boys

Much like Rahmen at Basel, David Wagner was hired to do a very specific job: win the title and put on a good show in Europe. Wagner was one of the more high-profile appointments in Swiss Super League history, having already coached in the Premier League and Bundesliga before coming to Bern.

His relationship with Jürgen Klopp is well-documented, and many were surprised to see him make the move to Switzerland amid interest from English clubs like West Brom. Over the past few years, however, success with Young Boys has propelled a few former coaches into much higher positions in the football world, so perhaps Wagner took that into account when deciding where his next job would be.

Things started out well. Qualification for the Champions League was achieved after victories over Slovan Bratislava, CFR Cluj, and Ferencvaros, two lower-league sides were swept aside in the cup, and Young Boys found themselves in their customary league position after 10 games. A 2-1 victory over Manchester United in the first Champions League game had everyone assuming that, as always, Young Boys would once again be the runaway side in Swiss football.

Then it all went a bit wrong. After that tenth  league game-day, Young Boys only won six more games under Wagner, culminating in a 2-2 draw with struggling Luzern after leading 2-0. They spent just one week in first place, dropping as low as fourth at times, were knocked out of the Swiss Cup by FC Lugano in the third round, and exited the Champions League without another win.

There wouldn’t even be a Europa League run, as they sank to the bottom of their group. Injuries began to pile up around Wagner and, in January, he lost three hugely influential players in Michel Aebischer, Christopher Pereira, and Jean-Pierre Nsame. Replacements were brought in, but results didn’t improve enough to convince the board that Wagner was the man to take them forward. His final two games, the draw with Luzern and a 1-0 loss to Servette, signaled the end of his time in Bern.

It may seem harsh, like Rahmen at Basel, to push a coach out so late in the season, but it must be remembered that Young Boys have held a monopoly on the Swiss League for four seasons now. Their squad is, by far, the strongest in the league, and the expectations of the board correlate with the investment they have made into making it so. Wagner simply could not fail. His inability to keep pace with Zürich, coupled with early exits from both cup and European competitions, meant Wagner’s time was up.

So who do Young Boys turn to now? Another high-profile hire, or someone a little more malleable? Whatever happens, the future looks extremely insecure for a club that have been so dominant in recent years.

The Author

Patrick Gunn

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