Switzerland enjoyed a stellar run to the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 (including a superb penalty shootout win over current world champions France), with this capturing the attention of fans from across the globe.
However, this success won’t have come as a surprise to the country’s football bodies and associations, who have overseen a significant evolution of the sport’s grassroots infrastructure and youth academies over the course of the last three decades or so.
We’ll chart this evolution below in our latest series of posts exploring grassroots football across Europe, while asking whether this has ultimately proved successful.
The Long-term Development of Grassroots Football in Switzerland
Despite enjoying a golden period of success during the 1930s and 1960s, Swiss football had sunk to a new low by the early-90s. In fact, the Swiss failed to qualify for a major tournament at all between 1966 and 1994, during which time their FIFA ranking plummeted as low as 83rd.
However, the appointment of Roy Hodgson as national coach in 1992 began to precipitate a significant improvement, with the Swiss rising as high as 3rd in the FIFA rankings in August 1993.
In January 1995, Hansruedi Hasler was appointed as the first technical director of the Swiss football association, with the former midfielder effectively given a blank piece of paper to develop new ideas and create a long-term foundation to build on Hodgson’s immediate success.
Hasler’s first, and most crucial, intervention was to create a clear line of distinction between grassroots football and elite-level youth competitions.
It was this key point of differentiation that saw Swiss football embark on a sustainable upward curve, with elite youth football clearly distinguished at the age of 12 and players required to play significant amounts before reaching this juncture.
In practical terms, wider grassroots football saw teams practice one or two games each week and focus primarily on the development of core technical skills within regional tournaments.
Conversely, the best young players would move into an elite grassroots system at the age of 12, while training daily under specialised coaches and competing in national competitions.
How Did These Changes Impact on Swiss Football?
These measures certainly had consequences for the competition and coaching systems at grassroots level, with Hasler introducing a national tournament for the most talented players under the age of 16.
This featured the participation of 28 club sides who were divided into two blocks, with a further, 14-side national tournament was held for players between the ages of 16 and 18.
Interestingly, youth teams aged under 21 were incorporated into the Swiss third tier, creating a higher and more intense level of competition both from the perspective of skills and physicality.
Ultimately, these measures have made it easier for Swiss teams to identify and nurture the most naturally gifted players, while also providing the type of competitive tournament structures and focused coaching that help to foster a winning mentality from an early age.
This has definitely borne fruit through the ages, with many of the current Swiss side having benefited from this revamped grassroots system and showcased a unique meld of skill, technical ability and toughness during the recent Euros.
Because of this, the future looks bright for the Swiss national team, creating huge anticipation ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.