New season, new goals: new manager.
The departure of Vladimir Petkovic as Switzerland manager shocked a nation coming off the back of a dream summer at EURO 2020. But after seven years Petkovic felt the time had come to move on, returning to club football with Ligue 1 outfit Bordeaux.
With Petkovic leaving for France, the SFV turned to Murat Yakin, former Switzerland international and current manager of second tier side FC Schaffhausen.
He was far from the Swiss media’s choice – an SRF poll didn’t even include Yakin as a potential candidate – with Urs Fischer and Marcel Koller emerging as the people’s favourites.
After a brief search, Yakin is the man entrusted to lead the Schweizer Nati.
The appointment did come as a surprise in Switzerland, many thinking the SFV would opt for a more experienced, decorated manager. Yakin is the youngest manager to lead Switzerland’s men in 24 years, and the first former national team player since Köbi Kuhn to switch the pitch for the dugout.
Though at the end of the day, Yakin does appear to be a smart move.
The 46-year-old is an established figure in Swiss football, earning plaudits as a player where he earned half a century of caps for Switzerland.
He has largely remained in domestic football since switching to management with stints at Luzern, Grasshoppers and Sion. A Super League winner with Basel and a Challenge League-winning manager with Thun, he is a manager who knows how to win trophies.
However, Yakin is best remembered for his time at hometown club FC Basel, where he guided the Rotblau to consecutive Super League titles in his two seasons at the club.
His Basel ties will come in handy, such is the overwhelming influence of the Swiss giants on the national team. Eight of the 26-man EURO squad had previously played at St. Jakob-Park and some even under Yakin, including Yann Sommer and Fabian Schär.
Yakin is the smart yet safe choice to continue Petkovic’s legacy, a man who can be entrusted to build on his predecessor’s success while hopefully moulding the national team into his own successful vision.
That being said, there have been eyebrows raised at the appointment of Yakin. There were certainly stronger options available, especially those who have been at the pinnacle of European football and picked up silverware abroad.
Yakin has proven himself to be an apt manager, though not without managerial blips. He failed to secure European football in his one season at Spartak Moscow, and almost got relegated with GC and Sion.
Switzerland always faced a dramatic change on the managerial front post-Petkovic, but there is uncertainty over whether Yakin is the most suitable successor to the national team’s greatest manager of all time. Replacing Petkovic is no easy ask, and if Yakin is to succeed at the helm, he must hit the ground running.
The former centre-back has big boots to fill, but he comes in at the best possible time.
Coming off the back of their best tournament performance in a generation and still in the golden days of the golden generation, Switzerland are an exciting team to manage. Never has a Swiss national team been so unified and successful, thanks to the work of Petkovic over the last seven years.
Switzerland have also got off to a strong start in World Cup qualification, which is the key objective for Yakin. Two wins from two in March place the Nati second in Group C behind European champions Italy, who they meet next in Basel.
Yakin’s contract runs until the end of the qualification where the goal is as simple as they come: qualify for the World Cup. If he succeeds, the option of a contract extension is there to permit Yakin to lead the Nati in Qatar – if not, it will mark the end of the very short road.
With three weeks to go until Yakin’s debut as Switzerland manager, there are decisions to be made.
Will the likes of Cedric Itten and Michel Aebischer return to the squad? Will it be a continued back three or the return to a flat-back four? Which youngsters will begin to be integrated into the senior squad?
For Yakin, the work starts now and builds up to the first international break of the season in September, where Switzerland face Greece, Italy and Northern Ireland. Three testing fixtures could come to define Yakin’s tenure from early on, whatever the outcome.
The Switzerland job today is a rewarding one, yet a responsibility which comes with fierce scrutiny and potential division throughout the nation. Yakin recognises the privilege and responsibility bestowed upon him, understanding what the national team means to modern day Switzerland.
Petkovic is gone, and it is time for a new era in the history of Swiss football. The Murat Yakin era begins today.
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