Manchester City were seemingly handed one of the easier draws in the last 16 stage of the Champions League, drawing Swiss side FC Basel. The Basel club have a rich European history having competed in European competitions in every single season since 1999-2000. In 2011-12, FC Basel beat Manchester United 2-1 in the Champions League group stages to pip them to the knock-out round where they lost to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich 3-2 on aggregate despite a 1-0 home victory. Basel have proved a bogey side to English clubs in the past, winning four and losing one of their past five home games against them in the Champions League.
Benefiting from regular Champions League income (TV, appearances, prize money), Basel have also swept up the last eight Swiss Championships.
To get better insight into this week’s opponents, I called on the help of FC Basel fan Chris Wachtler.
First of all, what can you tell us about FC Basel as a club? Who are they? What do they represent/what are their values?
Chris: FC Basel are one of the older clubs in Switzerland, having been founded in 1893. While always being a team with a large fan base it took the team quite a while to win their first trophy – the Swiss Cup in 1933. The first league title followed in 1953 but Basel saw their first strong phase in the 60s and 70s, two decades where the team won numerous titles and managed to reach the quarter-finals of the European Cup. Basel were then relegated in the late 80s and it took them until 1994 to win promotion back to the top division.
With the advent of the new millennium, new financial stability and possibilities were given to the team thanks to Gisela (Gigi) Oeri, wife of Andreas Oeri, one of the heirs of the pharmaceutical company Hoffman-La Roche. She used her wealth to financially secure the team and invested where necessary. The success followed, and Basel entered their most successful time span with 12 league titles since. Oeri left the team in 2012 but had minimised her financial investments years before and is now only engaged in the youth campus of FC Basel, where she finances part of the new youth facilities. The team is now more than self-sustaining and has turned large profits in past years.
Bernhard Heusler took over the position of president from her but had pretty much been leading the team since 2009. He was by far the most capable man in such a position in Switzerland and managed to maintain and build on Basel successes of the years before, which led to Basel winning 8 titles in a row between 2010 and 2017. Heusler decided to leave the club last season and pursue different goals. In the final game of the season our ultras stopped the game in the 72nd minute to thank him for the past decade.
The current president and owner, Bernhard Burgener, is also from Basel; a continuation of one the core values of FC Basel. The team is a vital part of the city, and the team always must be locally owned. A foreign investor, despite promises of Champions League glory or big-name players wouldn’t have a chance at succeeding here. The teams crest, name and club colours are also protected by rules which demand a vote by the club members on the issue. We will never see a Red Bull Basel and hopefully never have to give up the name of our stadium for some sponsor.
How have FC Basel played so far, this season? What are the fan’s expectations for the season?
Chris: FCB underwent huge changes in the managerial department last summer, replacing former manager Urs Fischer with Raphael Wicky, who joined the first team from our U21 squad. Furthermore, we lost two of our strikers and our captain in Matias Delgado, who retired after the second game of the season.
Basel started poorly this season, losing their first game against their greatest competition for the title, Young Boys Bern. A spell of a few draws and losses meant Basel were trailing Bern by 8 points soon after but the team managed to catch up again and close the gap to 2 points at the winter break. However, Basel lost the first game after the break again, which increased Bern’s lead to 5 points.
In that phase, where Basel were catching up, the team played great football, domestically and internationally. Being able to switch between systems (3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1) really helped the team cope with different opposition. Obviously the fans expect to win at least the league title, but while there are still two head to head games against Bern left, many fans are less confident about winning the title then they have been in past years. Luckily though, Young Boys are known for botching up their title chances, so let’s hope that tradition continues. On the other hand, the results in the Champions League have been very surprising and pleasing. Not many expected that Basel would be able to advance from such a strong group. Now having the chance to play in the Round of 16 once again is great, but no fan expects to go further into the tournament from this point on.
January was an interesting window for FC Basel with several first-team players leaving the Swiss club. How much impact will that have on the team?
Chris: We saw the return of former FC Basel players Stocker, Frei and Campo, all of which can help this team in the coming years. Personally, I think Steffen’s loss can be replaced and has been done so well. Akanji is a different story. The young center back has been a vital part of our team in the past few months and has been playing great football. We signed Leo Lacroix on loan to replace the missing CB, while Eder Balanta moved up in the hierarchy to replace Akanji. It’s difficult to tell if he will be able to fill the spot, but I’m hopeful.
Other players that left the team, generally weren’t that important or are youth prospects, that went out on loan to receive some playing time. The core of the team is still the same, so hopefully they will soon find back to former strength, as the first two games after the winter break haven’t been too good.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Chris: On Tuesday, Dimitri Oberlin, Michael Lang and Mohamed Elyounoussi. All three are capable of launching attacks which can create chances. They will also probably be those that create the largest threat to Man City, if any.
In future, Oberlin, Elyounoussi and Petretta who are in the team for Tuesday. Furthermore, we’ve got a few interesting youth prospects in our Youth League team / U21 team. To name two: Noah Okafor and Afimico Pululu. Both are also part of the first team squad, but generally play for the U21 team. Both are offensive players and have been showing promising performances in the Youth League.
A FC BASEL PERSPECTIVE ON MANCHESTER CITY AND PREDICTIONS
What have you made of Manchester City and Pep Guardiola this season?
Chris: They play fantastic football with insane offensive power. Probably the best team around right now together with Barcelona and PSG. We’ll see how far they can make it in the Champions League, luckily they’ve already pretty much won the Premier League so they can focus on the other trophies and maybe even complete a quadruple.
One Manchester City player you’d have at FC Basel?
Chris: Kevin De Bruyne. One of two stellar figures (other being Salah) this season in the Premier League. Can decide a game with his fantastic assists, which is something we’re lacking at the moment.
Predictions for this tie?
Chris: The divide is simply too big between both teams. But football is football, so you never know.
Hopefully: A close 1-1 in Basel and a narrow 1-2 loss in Manchester.
Realistically: A lucky 1-3 in Basel and a harsh 0-4 loss in Manchester.