When it comes to the playing staff, signings are a great way to improve the squad, both in terms of quality and depth, and indeed, are becoming the most common way. However, onlookers, especially fans of a club tend to derive great joy when a product of the club’s academy makes it through to the first team, and gains importance in it. With this in mind, we will look at some of the best youth academies across the world of football.
This part of this series takes a look at the slightly less feted, but no less impactful Basel academy.
For the past decade FC Basel’s club stature has rapidly grown due to domestic and European success. A club like Basel survives in modern football by investing/developing in youth players and selling them on for substantial fees to foreign clubs. As Basel’s stature increases the fees they receive for their talented youngsters will also increase, in recent years Basel have somewhat grown a reputation as a feeder club for European clubs due to their consistent youth production line and allowing players time to develop in a less competitive league before selling them to a bigger club in a more competitive league. This system has seen the likes of Bayern Munich, Chelsea FC and FC Schalke purchase young players from Basel in recent years.
The revolution in Basel’s academy started back in 1999 when Giesle Oeri, the wife of Pharmaceutical heir Andreas Oeri was invited to a Basel game against Grasshopper Club Zürich by Swiss businessman and Basel Chairman René Jäggi. Andreas Oeri agreed to join the board in the same year and one year later she was the main financial benefactor. In 2002 Andreas Oeri became chairwoman of Basel.
She began with a focus on improving the scouting system and youth policy. The aim was to educate all academy players with the Basel philosophy so they all have the same style of play as they integrate from youth team to first team. Since the turn of the millennium over 40 players have progressed through the youth academy to first team, whilst Basel have won the Swiss Super League for the past six consecutive years.
10 BEST PRODUCTS
Note that these are players who have played professional football in and after 2000.
IVAN RAKITIC // SENIOR DEBUT: 2005
Spending a total of 10 years in the academy, Ivan Rakitić joined Basel back in 1995 when he was around seven-years-old; by the age of 16 some Europe’s biggest clubs were chasing Rakitić’s signature. His family and himself thought it would be best to stay in Switzerland and to play more regularly in a less competitive league before moving abroad. Rakitić made his first team debut on the 29th of September 2005 in a UEFA Cup match against Široki Brijeg. After spending two years in the first team Rakitić decided to join German club FC Schalke. He spent four years at the Bundesliga outfit before joining La Liga club Sevilla FC. This is where Rakitić started to flourish and prove his talent on the big stage. During his final season in Seville, Rakitić was given the captain’s armband as he led Sevilla to Europa League triumph. He finished the season with an impressive tally of 15 goals and 18 assists, this naturally attracted some of the biggest clubs in Europe and on the 16th of June 2014 Rakitić signed a five-year contract with Spanish giants FC Barcelona. In his first season he won a remarkable treble as Barcelona won the La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League.
YANN SOMMER // SENIOR DEBUT: 2007
Now established as the number one goalkeeper for the Swiss national team, Yann Sommer joined the Basel youth academy in 2003 and signed his first professional contract in 2005. Sommer was later loaned out to Liechtenstein club FC Vaduz for two years to gain first team experience. He then spent the 09/10 season on loan to Grasshopper Club Zürich. Upon his return to Basel, Sommer signed a new contract with the club, and he spent his first full year as a second goalkeeper to Franco Costanzo, but when the club decided not to extend Costanzo’s contract, Sommer was named as the new number one goalkeeper for Basel. In his four years at first team level for Basel, Sommer won an incredible four Swiss Super League titles and one Swiss Cup. On the 10th of March 2014, Basel announced that Sommer would be leaving the club in the summer to join Bundesliga club Borussia Mönchengladbach.
GRANIT XHAKA // SENIOR DEBUT: 2010
Once dubbed the “young Schweinsteiger” by former Swiss manager Ottmar Hitzfeld and named the best Swiss talent by former Basel coach Thorsten Fink, Granit Xhaka joined the Basel youth academy in 2002 and spent eight years working his way up through the ranks. During his time at youth level Xhaka won the U17 World Cup with Switzerland in 2009. At the beginning of the 10/11 season Xhaka was promoted to the first team and he made his debut for the club in the third qualifying round of the Champions League against Debreceni VSC. Basel went on the win the league that season and a year later they won the double as they were crowned Swiss Super League and Swiss Cup champions. Borussia Mönchengladbach announced the signing of Xhaka in May 2012 and two years later he was united with fellow Basel youth graduate Yann Sommer as the Swiss keeper decided to join Gladbach from Basel as well.
XHERDAN SHAQIRI // SENIOR DEBUT: 2009
Joining the Basel academy in 2001, Xherdan Shaqiri started to make a name for himself after he competed in a U-15 Nike Cup back in 2007. He was awarded with the best player accolade and with scouts from some of Europe’s top clubs in attendance throughout the tournament, Shaqiri became one of the most sought after youngsters in football. However, the pacy winger decided it would be best to stay at Basel for the time being. Two years after the tournament Shaqiri made his debut for Basel in the 09/10 season opener against FC St. Gallen. After three years and three league titles plus two Swiss Cups, Shaqiri decided it was time to leave the Swiss club. German powerhouses FC Bayern Munich came in for Shaqiri and a fee for around €11.6 million was agreed with Basel. Even though he played 39 games for Bayern in his first season, Shaqiri struggled to hold down a starting spot and complete 90 minutes for the club. Despite winning the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League with Bayern, Shaqiri started to get frustrated about the lack of playing time. He transferred to Serie A club Internazionale in January 2015, but he only lasted eight months in Italy before moving to English side Stoke City.
GOKHAN INLER // SENIOR DEBUT: 2005
Former FC Zürich midfielder Gökhan Inler was initially part of Basel’s academy, but left the club after a few years as he was annoyed by the lack of first team opportunity given to him. Inler had a short stint at FC Aarau before moving to Zürich in January 2006, he was part of the title winning Zürich team of 05/06 and 06/07. After just under 18 months at Zürich, Udine-based club Udinese Calcio met the release clause in Inler’s contract and the combative midfielder signed a five-year contract with the club. After helping Udinese get fourth spot in the 10/11 season, Inler transferred to Napoli for €13 million. In his first season with the club he won the Coppa Italia and two years later he won it again as Napoli beat Fiorentina 3-1 in the final. In the same year Napoli beat Juventus 6-5 on penalties to lift the Supercoppa Italiana. He moved to Leicester City on the 19th of August 2015 and three days later he made his debut for the club against Tottenham Hotspur. Inler is currently the joint fifth most capped player for Switzerland with 87 caps to his name and is the current captain for the national side.
ZDRAVKO KUZMANOVIC // SENIOR DEBUT: 2005
Born into a family of footballers with both his father and grandfather being ex-professionals it seemed natural for Kuzmanonvić to follow in their path. He joined the Basel academy in 2003 and it only took him two years to get promoted to the first team. After a season and a half in the first team and at the age of 19, Kuzmanonvić signed for Serie A outfits ACF Fiorentina, he went on to be integral part in the midfield for Fiorentina. On transfer deadline in 2009 Kuzmanonvić signed a four-year contract with Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart. Kuzmanonvić would spend four years in Germany before deciding to leave after he was being played out of position. He would return to Italy to join Internazionale before returning back to Switzerland to sign for FC Basel in the summer of 2015.
ALEXANDER FREI // SENIOR DEBUT: 1997
Born in Basel, Switzerland, Alexander Frei played for his hometown club FC Basel youth academy in the mid-1990’s, but he decided to transfer to FC Thun after one season with the Basel first team in 1998. Between 1999 and 2003 Frei transferred from Thun to FC Luzern to Servette FC and then eventually Stade Rennes FC in Ligue 1. He finished the 04/05 season as the top goalscorer in Ligue 1. On the 29th of June 2006, Frei signed a four-year contract with Borussia Dortmund, he finished his first season with 17 goals in 34 games. After three years in Germany, Frei decided it was time to return to Switzerland and play for his old hometown club Basel. He won the Swiss Super League four times and the Swiss Cup twice with Basel, he also became the highest goalscorer for the Swiss national team with 43 goals in 85 games before he retired from football in 2013.
MASSIMO CECCARONI // SENIOR DEBUT: 1987
This player is now considered a cult figure at Basel for spending his entire 25-year career at the club and for never scoring a goal! Massimo Ceccaroni first joined the Basel academy in 1977 when he was nine-years-old, it took Ceccaroni 10 years to finally make his debut for the club. He helped Basel get back into the top division in 1994 as they won the Nationaliga B (Now known as the Swiss Challenge League). Eight years later and in his final season with the club, Basel won the double as they were crowned Nationaliga A (Now known as Swiss Super League) and Swiss Cup champions. In 2012 Ceccaroni was appointed as technical director of Basel’s youth department, helping the new generation of Swiss players with their careers and development.
PHILIP DEGEN // SENIOR DEBUT: 2001
Philip Degen spent six years in Basel’s academy before he made his debut with the first team in 2001. He spent the 02/03 season on loan to FC Aarau, the same team that his twin brother David was playing for. In 2005 Philip signed for Borussia Dortmund and a year later another Basel graduate Alexander Frei joined the club. Three years after his move to Dortmund, Philip transferred to Merseyside giants Liverpool FC. Unfortunately for Philip, his time at Liverpool was riddled with injuries and he only played seven league games in two years before being loaned out to VfB Stuttgart. He eventually returned to Basel in 2011 after being released by Liverpool. In his entire time at Basel, Philip has gone on to win six Swiss Super League medals and two Swiss Cup medals.
DAVID DEGEN // SENIOR DEBUT: 2000
In 1996 David Degen started his first out of four spells at Basel when he joined the youth academy. He would leave Basel to join FC Aarau as he was annoyed by the lack of first team football opportunities at Basel. He would later return to Basel three years later in 2003. During his second spell David went on to win the Swiss Super League twice and the Swiss Cup once. In the summer of 2006 David decided to leave Basel again, but this time to join German side Borussia Mönchengladbach. Sadly, Gladbach were relegated from the Bundesliga that season, so manager at the time Jos Luhukay decided to loan him back to Basel for the 07/08 season where he would win the league again. David joined Swiss club BSC Young Boys in 2008 and spent four years at the club prior to his move back to Basel for the fourth and final time in 2012. David went on to win the league two more times before deciding to hang up his boots in 2014.
The best prospect from the Basel academy has to be Breel Embolo. This versatile striker is one of the best youngsters in the world at the moment. Embolo already has 69 appearances and 26 goals for the first team, despite only turning 18 in February this year! He first made his debut back in 2014 against FC Salzburg in the Europa League. Three days later Embolo made his league debut for Basel and it only took him four minutes to get his first goal for the club after coming on as a substitute. In March 2015 Embolo made his senior debut for the Swiss national team against the United States in a 1-1 draw. According to some reports Embolo has been scouted by many English and German teams including the likes of Arsenal FC and VfL Wolfsburg.
Another young upcoming striker that is coming through the academy is Albian Ajeti. This 18-year-old signed for Basel back in 2005. Ajeti made his debut for Basel in the same Europa League game as Embolo did in 2014. On the 6th of April 2014 Ajeti made his league debut against FC Thun and on the 18th of May 2014 Ajeti got his first goal for the club against FC Lausanne-Sport in a comprehensive 4-2 win. The young striker is on the verge of breaking into the first team and recently made his debut for the Swiss U21 team.
Written by Alex Smith
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Alex is a London-based writer covering European football for various websites. You can keep up-to-date with his work by checking out his website www.alexsaidysmith.com or alternatively following him on Twitter: @AlexSaidySmith.
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