New faces in the Swiss Super League

Earlier this month, I wrote an article detailing the biggest departures from the Swiss top flight after deadline day closed the transfer window in most European leagues.

In Switzerland, however, the window stayed open until February 15th, meaning clubs had two more weeks to bring in replacements and reinforcements for the second half of the season.

There’s no doubt that FC Basel and Young Boys lost the biggest names in January, but were they able to replace them? What kind of moves, if any, did FC Zürich make as they look to win their first Swiss title since 2009? Who was able to bring in a surprise package in order to bolster hopes of survival, or the potential to make Europe next year? Let’s take a look at a few of the biggest moves in Swiss football this winter.

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Fedor Chalov (CSKA Moscow) and Ádám Szalai (Mainz 05) to FC Basel

It wouldn’t be out of line to suggest that FC Basel suffered the most in January. As if losing Wunderkind Edon Zhegrova to Lille wasn’t bad enough, talismanic striker Arthur Cabral was also lured away by Fiorentina for a relatively paltry €14 million considering his goal contributions in the past year. If they were going to have any chance of chasing FC Zürich and reclaiming the title, Basel knew they would have to replace Arthur’s goals.

The call went out, firstly, to Russia. Fedor Chalov was brought in on loan from CSKA Moscow as a direct replacement for the departing Brazilian. At just 23, Chalov was seen as a high-potential target who could already boast over 150 games in Russia and Europe.

Add 49 goals to his experience, and Basel fans could be forgiven for being excited about their new man. Only three goals this season could be a dampener, however, and Chalov will need to step up quickly to prove his worth.

And Basel weren’t quite done yet. On deadline day, the announcement came that an agreement had been reached with Hungarian Hulk, Ádám Szalai. At 6’4 and 34 years old, Szalai isn’t the typical Basel signing of recent years, but they clearly saw something that he could offer to them until the end of next season. Perhaps they thought his size and experience could bring a variation to their attacking approach; someone to put a bit more physical pressure on a tired backline, for example.

In the last three seasons, however, Szalai has scored a total of four goals in all competitions, which doesn’t inspire much confidence. That being said, four goals for Hungary in 2021 suggests that he can still find the net on occasion. Whether he and Chalov will be enough to bring Basel back into the title race is yet to be seen.

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Cheikh Niasse (Lille) and Edimilson Fernandes (Mainz 05) to BSC Young Boys

Simply put, this season has not gone to plan for David Wagner and Young Boys. 10 points behind FC Zürich (at the time of writing), riddled with injuries, and now without key men Silvan Hefti, Michel Aebischer, and Jean-Pierre Nsame, all of whom moved to Italy in January. The reigning champions also lost midfielder Christopher Martins Pereira to Spartak Moscow, leaving their squad looking extremely thin without reinforcements.

In an attempt to add some meat to their skeletal squad, Young Boys moved to bring in a number of options from across Europe. Two such new faces were Chiekh Niasse and Edimilson Fernandes, both considered pretty big gets for a side sitting so far behind the current league leaders.

Niasse is a defensive midfielder from the Lille academy who only has a few appearances for the Ligue 1 club, but spent a solid loan spell with Panathanaikos last season which led to a number of links to clubs across Europe. Norwich, Club Bruges, Angers, Servette, and Brighton (amongst others) were all reportedly interested in bringing in the young Senegalese talent. Young Boys may not be able to reap the rewards of this deal immediately, given Niasse’s age and lack of top-flight experience, but it could be a move that provides future benefits as he grows and improves.

Edimilson Fernandes, on the other hand, is a move that should provide Young Boys with a ready-made  talent with more than enough quality to step right back into the Swiss Super League. Fernandes had over 50 appearances for FC Sion, his hometown club, before moving to West Ham. From London, Fernandes took in a loan move to Fiorentina before Mainz paid around €7.5 million to bring him to the Bundesliga. His time in Germany has been solid, if unimpressive, and has included a loan move to Arminia Bielefeld.

With just one goal and one assist in his time with Mainz, Young Boys will no doubt be hoping that Fernandes can contribute a few more to their current and future title challenges, but his versatility will be his primary strength. In over 250 appearances at all levels, Fernandes has played in nine different positions, something Young Boys should appreciate given their injury record.

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Ignacio Aliseda (Chicago Fire), Milton Valenzuela (Columbus Crew) and Kevin Rüegg (Hellas Verona) to FC Lugano

Outside of the traditional “big boys”, FC Lugano might just be the most interesting team to follow in the Super League right now. In August 2021, it was announced that the Ticinese side had been bought by American billionaire, Joe Mansueto, who also owns Chicago Fire of the MLS.

Many thought that this would bring a slew of transfers between the clubs, akin to the relationship we’ve seen between Grasshopper Zürich and Wolverhampton Wanderers, but so far things have been fairly quiet. 21-year-old winger Ignacio Aliseda became the first arrival in Lugano from Chicago when he signed on January 1st, one of a number of incoming deals that the club will hope can propel them into the European spots and the Swiss Cup final. Aliseda scored five goals in his time in Chicago, adding to the two he hit for Defensa y Justicia in Argentina, his home country, so a greater contribution will be needed if he is to really help his new club achieve their targets.

Another addition from the MLS is full back Milton Valenzuela, another Argentinian, who arrived from Columbus Crew at the end of January. Valenzuela is a Newell’s Old Boys graduate who had only played 13 times for his boyhood club before he was taken on loan by Columbus. 77 appearances later, Lugano were able to snag the left back on a free transfer. Whether he will play as a traditional full back or a more advanced one in Lugano’s three-at-the-back approach, isn’t clear just yet as we await his debut, but for a team that need to score more goals, a more offensive option would be beneficial.

That thought process may well have led Lugano to pull off one of the more surprising deals of the window – bringing Kevin Rüegg back to Switzerland. It was only in September 2020 that Hellas Verona paid around €2 million to take the highly-rated Rüegg from FC Zürich, and now he returns to the Super League with just seven appearances in Italy under his belt. Lugano will be hoping that Rüegg can rediscover the form that led him to be one of Switzerland’s most exciting youth prospects, despite his lack of action in Verona. Able to operate up and down the right flank and in the middle of the park, there are many teams that would have very much liked to have made this deal. Will it work out for Lugano?

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Hayao Kawabe, Sang-bin Jeong, Bruno Jordão (Wolves) to Grasshopper Zürich

The relationship between Grasshopper and Wolves is an odd one, though not uncommon in the modern game. Chairman Sky Sun was previously on the board at Molineux, and has helped to facilitate a co-operative nature between the clubs in which players are loaned/sold to one another. As I said, this isn’t a rarity in the game nowadays, but more and more it seems that Wolves hold all the cards in the partnership, leaving Grasshopper to deal with whatever players they’re left with at the end of things.

The perfect example of this is Hayao Kawabe – bought by Grasshopper in 2021 for around €1.2 million, Kawabe had played 16 times and scored four goals for his new side before Wolves moved for him in January. Despite the fact GZ had paid over a million for Kawabe, and his performances had made him a regular starter in the side, Wolves paid just €600,000 to bring him to England, before sending him back to Zürich on loan for the rest of the season. As such, he’s not exactly a “new face”, but it seems a shame that Kawabe is now a temporary member of the GZ squad, waiting to see whether Wolves want him or not.

Jeong and Jordão, on the other hand, are entirely new prospects for the Grasshopper faithful to keep an eye on. After impressing for Suwon Bluewings in the K League, Jeong was brought in by Wolves for just under €1 million before being sent straight out to Switzerland. He is yet to feature for Grasshopper, but gives them a wide, attacking option they have struggled for so far this season.

Bruno Jordão cost Wolves €8.9 million back in August 2019, but has only made five appearances for the Premier League side so far. At 23, Wolves will be hoping that Jordão can prove himself in the Swiss League, or at the very least impress enough to convince somebody to help them recoup some of his initial cost.

For Zürich, Jordão represents the kind of quality that could help them keep pace with the better teams in the league, as they continue to recover from their shock relegation a few years ago. The top priority must be to challenge city rivals FC Zürich, who look ever-more likely to take home the Championship this season despite making very few moves in the winter window.

Will their partnership with Wolves give them the autonomy to achieve such a goal? Who knows? But if the quality of player is good enough, then anything is possible.

The Author

Patrick Gunn

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