League Focus: Switzerland – Zurich back on top

SWITZERLAND doesn’t get too much exposure for its domestic football. The country has a reasonable record in recent years at national level and has qualified for Qatar 2022, but most of the publicity around football usually focuses on UEFA and FIFA, who both have their headquarters in Switzerland.

The Swiss Super League has a reputation for being a goal-happy competition, but in 2020-21, the goal-per-game rate went below three and was less than neighbouring leagues such as the Bundesliga, Austrian Bundesliga and Serie A.

This season, FC Zurich are leading the way in the Super League and already have a seven point margin over second-placed Basel. Champions for the last four years, Young Boys Bern, look in danger of losing their crown and are in third position. Zurich have not been champions since 2008-09, but they won the Swiss Cup in 2018, 2016 and 2014. In 2016, they were relegated from the Super League but came back iat the first attempt in 2017.  

Zurich may have only lost two games in the league, but tellingly, the defeats include a 4-0 humbling by Young Boys and a 3-1 loss in Basel. They have scored 43 goals in 18 games, with Gambia international Assan Ceesay the leading scorer with 10. Ceesay has played for his country in the Africa Cup of Nations that is currently in progress in Cameroon.

Basel may not be the driving force in Switzerland at present, but they have the league’s leading scorer in 23 year-old Arthur Cabral, who has netted an impressive 14 goals in 18 games. Basel had a good UEFA Conference League group stage, winning four of six games and qualifying for the last 16.

Young Boys, managed by David Wagner, crashed out of the UEFA Champions League in a group that included Manchester United, Villareal and Atalanta. They won just one game, a 2-1 victory against United. Unfortunately, they finished bottom and failed to gain a consolation place in the Europa League.

In economic terms, Young Boys and Basel are significantly stronger than the rest of the Super League, but like all clubs, they have suffered from losses during the covid-19 pandemic. In 2019-20, matchday revenues collapsed in Switzerland and the overall impact on earnings was quite marked – Young Boys suffered a 38% drop to CHF 36.2 million, while Basel’s income was down by 46% to CHF 27.2 million. Zurich’s situation was even worse, a decline of 65% to CHF 8.8 million.

Swiss football has a greater reliance on matchday earnings than many major leagues across Europe, so the pandemic has been especially harsh for the clubs. According to Deloitte, the Swiss Super League (in 2020) generated around € 229 million and matchday generally accounts for 35%, but in 2019-20, matchday dropped by 57%. Young Boys, for example, saw their matchday earnings fall by 41%. Deloitte also noted that in 2021 that only Basel (54%) and St. Gallen (41%) had healthy equity ratios.

The Swiss Super League’s peers include Austria, Scotland and, at a push, Denmark. Their revenues are comparable, although the Danish Superliga generates around € 70 million less than its Swiss counterpart. Austria pays less of its income on wages, 57% versus 70%, but the TV deal is substantially better than Switzerland’s.

The pandemic has obviously had a negative impact on the transfer market. Since 2019-20, Basel have been the biggest spenders, paying out € 22.5 million and recouping € 41.9 million. In 2021-22, Young Boys top the list so far at € 2.5 million of expenditure. Basel are among the top 10 clubs for providing talent to the big five leagues in Europe, notably the German Bundesliga.

Will Zurich hold on to their lead in the second half of the season? They have added to their squad in the form of Estonia international Karol Mets from CSKA Sofia, a deal that cost Zurich € 200,000. Basel, meanwhile, have signed Noah Katterback from Köln and Albian Hajdari of Juventus, both on loan. Young Boys have also been busy, securing the services of Anthony Racioppi from Dijon and Nicholas Ammeter from Arau (loan).

The Swiss Super League resumes after the winter break on January 29.