Champions League

Basel win offers hope for minnows

2014-10-02 15:06
Lazar Markovic (AFP)

Cape Town - FC Basel's shock Champions League win over Liverpool has once again shown that there is life outside Europe's big five leagues, even if it requires a constant balancing act to remain competitive.

The Swiss champions invariably lose two or three top players every season but have become masters at finding affordable replacements, often in places that bigger clubs do not seem to look.

Coach Murat Yakin departed last season, somewhat surprisingly, shortly after leading his side to a fifth successive Swiss league title and the Europa League quarter-finals.

Yet, the gaps have been quickly filled for what is little more than small change in the context of the modern transfer market.

Ahmed Hamoudi, 24, was plucked from Egyptian Premier League club Smouha for less than one million euros, while 20-year-old Paraguayan Derlis Gonzalez cost a princely 3 million euros. He was signed from Benfica although he never played for the Portuguese side, who instead loaned him to Guarani in his homeland.

17-year-old Cameroon-born Breel Embolo, who gave a lively performance on Wednesday after a surprise inclusion in the starting line-up, is a product of Basel's youth academy.

Basel's 1-0 win over Liverpool was only the second time this season that a team from one of the so-called Big Five leagues of England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France has been beaten by an outsider in the tournament.

Remarkably, the Swiss have won their last four Champions League matches against English Premier League sides and reached the Europa League semi-finals in 2013, eliminating Tottenham Hotspur on the way.

Yet club president Bernhard Heusler has refused to get carried away, limiting the club's ambitions to a place in the Champions League round of 16.

And even while Basel are doing well themselves, there are growing concerns that their domestic dominance, helped by bonus payments from their European participation, is having a negative effect on the Swiss Super League.

Despite an annual revenue of around 35 million Swiss francs, the club have resisted the temptation to splurge on big-name signings and instead use a three-tier policy with the squad to try and remain sustainable and successful - a difficult balancing act.

One third of the squad consists of experienced Swiss or foreign players, another third consists of young players raised at the club and the remainder of foreign players, who use Basel as a springboard to a career in one of the bigger leagues.

The same goes for their Portuguese coach Paulo Sousa, who, having previously managed in Hungary, Israel and the English second tier, may well have his eyes set on bigger things.

"It's in my mind to win the Champions League as a coach," he said on his official presentation.

"It's not only my dream, it's my mind and I have full conviction it will happen one day."

Whether he expected to do it with FC Basel was left open to interpretation.

Read more on:    liverpool  |  basel  |  champions league  |  soccer
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