Sunday 15 November 2020, 09:24

Where are the Swiss conquerors now?

  • Switzerland won the FIFA U-17 World Cup on 15 November 2009

  • Where are those champions now?

  • talks with coach Dany Ryser and defender Charyl Chapuis

'They came, they conquered, they never returned.'

This modified version of the well-known saying is rather fitting for Switzerland, who won the country’s first-ever global title at their historic maiden outing at a FIFA U-17 World Cup™ in 2009. Since lifting that trophy in Nigeria, however, the Swiss have never reached the tournament again.

“Lots of things always just have to come together for Switzerland,” said Dany Ryser in an interview with Switzerland’s U-17 coach at the time, Ryser now works for UEFA and FIFA in coach education, and as a technical observer at tournaments. “You have to qualify in the first place and then there’s a lot more to do at the tournament itself. The dynamic we had in Nigeria hasn’t been repeated."

That success in Africa lives on though. “Nice memories come to the surface every so often,” Ryser said. “That win is talked about over and over again. They were unforgettable moments with the team during what was a long time in a very special environment. Such success would never have been possible without such a fantastic team spirit. After we beat Brazil in the group stage I felt that we could become world champions.”

Defender Charyl Chappuis likewise has fond memories, as he told “It was probably the nicest period of my career. The conditions in Nigeria were undoubtedly special, but our togetherness and team spirit were unique.” And what did he make of Ryser? “I’ve never had another coach who was so meticulous about details. He set us up perfectly to face the opposition in every game."

Head coach Dany Ryser of Switzerland gestures

But where are those young starlets now? Together with Ryser, we take a closer look back on the key players from Nigeria 2009.

Benjamin Siegrist (goalkeeper, 28)

  • Best goalkeeper at the tournament

  • The Technical Study Group described him as “a goalkeeper with good reactions and positional play, excellent on his line as well as on crosses"

  • Clubs include: Aston Villa, Vaduz, Dundee United

  • Took part at the 2012 Olympics

Ryser: "He was very important for us. He kept us in a lot of games with his saves. I viewed him as a very focused young goalkeeper back then. After that, his development didn’t continue as we or he thought it would. The fact he went to England at a young age certainly contributed to him not having a hugely successful career, because there’s enormous competition for places over there as a goalkeeper.”

Benjamin Siegrist of Switzerland poses with the Golden Glove Award

Frederic Veseli (captain and defender, 27)

  • Clubs include: Manchester City, Manchester United, Lugano, Empoli, Le Mans

  • National team: 29 caps for Albania

  • Participated at EURO 2016 with Albania

Ryser: "He was my captain, an absolute leader. I knew he had a mistake in him in every game, but otherwise he was unbelievably reliable and very loyal. I’m delighted that he ended up playing at the European Championship in 2016, even if it was for Albania. He was very mature for a 17-year-old. I can still remember very clearly how he reacted when we were stuck in the airport before the final against Nigeria. He calmed me down by saying: ‘They won’t start the final without us’. That was impressive.”

Charyl Chappuis (defender, 28)

  • Clubs include: Grasshopper, Buriram United, Suphanburi, Muangthong United, Port

  • National team: 20 caps for Thailand (five goals)

  • 2014 Southeast Asian Championship winner

  • Social media star in Thailand (1.4m followers on Instagram)

  • Rejected an offer from Juventus after the U-17 World Cup

Ryser: "He was someone who was not only decisive in defence but also going forward. I advised him to move to Thailand back when he did, but I regretted it because he could also have had a great career in Europe if his coaches had believed in him more. Unfortunately, most Super League coaches didn’t want centre-backs smaller than 6’3” (1.90m) back then. It’s great what he’s gone on to achieve though. He’s a star in Thailand.”

Charyl Chappuis #4 of Buriram United poses during the AFC Asian Champions League

Haris Seferovic (forward, 28)

  • Clubs include: Grasshopper, Fiorentina, Real Sociedad, Eintracht Frankfurt, Benfica

  • National team: 69 caps for Switzerland (19 goals)

  • Participated at EURO 2016 and at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™

Ryser: "With Nassim Ben Khalifa and Haris Seferovic we had an outstanding strike duo. But it wasn’t always easy with the two of them. They both played at Grasshopper Zurich but they didn’t really gel together. Neither wanted the other to score, they wouldn’t square a pass to a team-mate in front of goal because they wanted to score themselves. I talked to them and said: ‘If you two keep this up, I’ll only take one of you to the World Cup.’ Speaking to them separately, I asked them who they thought I would take. Both said Ben Khalifa. Yes, Nassim was further along in his development than Seferovic at the time, but I made it clear that if Seferovic was the only one putting the team first, then I’d leave Ben Khalifa at home. Both players really gave their all for the team at the tournament, they gelled brilliantly and scored decisive goals.”

The Swiss players Nassim Ben Khalifa, Haris Seferovic and Benjamin Siegrist (from left to right) hold the trophy

Nassim Ben Khalifa (midfielder/forward, 28)

  • Clubs include: Wolfsburg, Nurnberg, BSC Young Boys, Eskisehirspor, Grasshopper Club Zurich

  • National team: Four caps for Switzerland (no goals)

  • adidas Silver Ball winner as the second best player at the U-17 World Cup 2009 (four goals, three assists)

Ryser: "I always compared him to Mario Gotze. He had a superb tournament and joined Wolfsburg afterwards. He wasn’t able to break through there and then he had a serious injury. After that he was never again able to reach the level I saw in him."

Switzerland's Nassim Ben Khalifa celebrates after the victory

Granit Xhaka (winger/midfielder, 28)

  • Clubs: Basel, Borussia Monchengladbach, Arsenal

  • National team: 83 caps for Switzerland (12 goals)

  • Participated at 2014 and 2018 World Cups, as well as EURO 2016

  • 2017 Swiss Player of the Year

Ryser: "He was a late developer and at the time he wasn’t the leader he is today in the national team. He wasn’t a first-team regular in the U-16s because he was physically still a bit behind the others. But to me it was always clear that he had a huge amount of talent. He only got into the starting line-up as the World Cup got closer. Given his slight frame I didn’t think he was robust enough yet to thrive in central midfield on the international stage. That’s why I put him on the wing. I’m not surprised he’s gone on to have such a great career, and I’m really happy for him."

Ricardo Rodriguez (full-back, 28)

  • Clubs: Zurich, Wolfsburg, AC Milan, PSV Eindhoven, Torino

  • National team: 77 caps for Switzerland (eight goals)

  • Participated at EURO 2016 and the 2018 World Cup

Ryser: "Ricardo only joined us a month before the tournament started because there had been delays with getting his naturalisation. I’ve never seen a player so unaffected by stress or pressure. He never lost his cool. He was an extraordinary player even back then."

Alternative View Portraits - Ricardo Rodriguez of Switzerland