'Third choice' Swiss coach battles low expectations

AFP - [email protected]
'Third choice' Swiss coach battles low expectations

Vladimir Petkovic's improbable journey to the top of Swiss football has included stops as a player and manager across Europe as well as five years working at the Caritas charity shop.


But goodwill has been in short supply since he took charge of Switzerland's national team in 2014, with the public mood sour and expectations low before Euro 2016 kicks off.
Among Petkovic's top challenges are the shoes he has to fill.
Former coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, who led the national team from 2008 before retiring in July 2014, was accomplished and revered by football's leading figures, including Alex Ferguson.
Hitzfeld won major titles managing Bayern Munich at a time when Petkovic was employed full-time in a shop run by the Caritas charity. He held the job from 2003 to 2008, while coaching and studying football in the evenings.
"It's difficult," said Sandro Compagno, sports editor at Swiss daily 20 Minuten. "Hitzfeld was a very big name ... and so there is always a comparison."
Compagno added that Petkovic was, at best, Switzerland's third choice for the job.
Born in the former Yugoslavia, Petkovic starred as a midfielder with Sarajevo before moving to Switzerland to play in 1987, ultimately adopting citizenship in the federation.
After retiring in 1999, he coached clubs in Switzerland, Turkey and Italy's Lazio, where he won the Coppa Italia in 2012.
Lazio's owner Claudio Lotito told the Guardian in 2014 that the Caritas experience was the reason he hired Petkovic, as he wanted his players "to be nourished spiritually."
Lotito sacked Petkovic when he learned the coach was negotiating to take the Switzerland job.
Hitzfeld was a master tactician, enforcing a highly disciplined brand of football where goal prevention was the priority, an approach that yielded results at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where Switzerland suffered an extra-time loss in the last 16 to eventual finalists Argentina.
"When Petkovic came he wanted the team to have a little bit more style ... more attacking-minded football, but it didn't work out, up to now," Compagno told AFP.
The side went 232 minutes without scoring a goal in a string of recent matches, leading to an online 20 Minuten poll in which only 16 percent of fans said Petkovic was the right manager to lead Switzerland.
Of the 10,000 people who voted, only five percent said the Swiss would reach the quarters at Euro 2016.

Team unity?

Like Petkovic, many of Switzerland's players migrated from Eastern Europe, complicating linguistic and cultural unity on a team that represents a country which already has four official languages.
To foster unity, the manager has demanded that players eat together at one table, seeking to avoid the emergence of intra-squad cliques driven by ethnicity.
He also banned the use of mobile phones from certain team events and mandated that players wear shoes -- and not flip flops -- at meals.

Petkovic's halting German has posed problems in his media relations, but his roots in the former Yugoslavia have reportedly helped him forge connections with key players who have Albanian roots, including Stoke City star Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka of Borussia Monchengladbach.


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