Unique Swiss football season set to resume

The Swiss football league gets under way again this weekend after the winter break. But for those unfamiliar with the unique Swiss system, it can be a confusing time.

This content was published on March 7, 2000 - 10:12

The Swiss football league gets under way again this weekend after the winter break. But for those unfamiliar with the unique Swiss system, it can be a confusing time.

Most other European leagues simply stop for the winter and then start up from where they left off. In Switzerland, the bottom four teams in the National League A drop out of contention to battle it out with the top four teams from the National League B for a place in next season's top division.

Meanwhile the top eight teams have the number of points they earned in the qualifying round halved before resuming the race for the championship. The system was a compromise introduced in 1976, and despite its detractors, it has endured.

The current league leaders, St Gallen, have seen their impressive eight-point lead slashed to four. Needless to say, SG's coach, Marcel Koller, has mixed feelings.

"It's certainly an unusual system, and when you're in front and, like us, you've collected a lot of points - to come back and have those points halved and find everyone much closer, then that's obviously a bit annoying," Koller told Swiss Radio International. "But I don't want to complain. We've played this way in Switzerland for a long time. It's not as if it's something new." ·

One team with a particular reason to dislike the system is FC Zurich. Having finished in the top eight, they were found to have fielded an ineligible player. Their opponents in that match, Neuchatel Xamax, were awarded a 3-0 win and Zurich slipped into the relegation round.

"I don't like the system, but it's not my decision," says FCZ's manager, Raimondo Ponte. "I would prefer not to be ruled out of contention halfway through the season. But Switzerland has decided to do it a different way, and we have to accept that."

Not everyone loses out under the system. The most glamorous club, Grasshoppers Zurich, were 12 points off the lead when the season paused. Now they're just six points - or two wins - behind St Gallen. Grasshoppers' English manager, Roy Hodgson, says there are other benefits too:

"It's not a fair system in purely sporting terms," Hodgson said to SRI. "But when you start you know what the formula is going to be. From a financial viewpoint, and from the viewpoint of maintaining interest until the end of the season, it works."

There's no doubt that halving the points brings a lot more clubs into contention. On the strength of their performance in the first half of the season, St Gallen start as favourites, although Koller doesn't want to be too optimistic.

"I just hope we can get straight back to the level of performance we had before the winter break. The target for us is to be in European competition next season," Koller said.

St Gallen are Switzerland's oldest surviving club. But in their long history they have only won one championship - and that was in 1904. Roy Hodgson believes they can do it: "I think their chances are very good. They'll be disappointed if they don't win the title. They have a four-point lead, and they know that if they finish level on points, they'll win the championship because their were the best team in the qualifying round. It would be a tremendous achievement for them, because they're not a fashionable club."

As for Grasshoppers, currently in fourth place, Hodgson says he would not consider finishing second a failure, althought the fans might: "Grasshoppers is the Manchester United or Milan of Switzerland, and for a club like that, second is not good enough."

The other chief contenders include Basel, who have been revitalised under the former Grasshoppers coach, Christian Gross, and finished the qualifying round in second place. Lausanne, currently in third, are also in with a good chance.

But defending champions Servette Geneva, despite having the second most expensive squad in the league, will have their work cut out to make an impression following a dismal first half to the season.

By Mark Ledsom and Roy Probert

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

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