This season, the Swiss Super League feels like a coming of age. It’s not only for the fact that the brilliantly-named Young Boys transitioned into adults by winning their first league title in 32 years, but also for ending Basel’s hegemony in the process. With Basel champions for the last eight seasons, any prospect of a title race had evaporated in recent years. Having strong, dominant teams in a league is all well and good, but title races are more exciting. Just look at Juventus and Napoli in the Serie A. In a similar manner to AEK Athens ending Olympiacos’ dominance in Greece this season, Young Boys have bucked the trend, bringing a fresh wave of air to a stale competition.
They last came this close in Basel’s first triumph of the eight-year run; Young Boys finished three points off Basel, despite boasting the league’s top-scorer, Seydou Doumbia. In the last 14 years (since the conception of the ten-team Super League format in 2003-04), they’ve finished runners-up seven times, and third another four times. It strengthens their reputation as the nearly-there team, and as Basel racked up titles, their financial status also improved, establishing a status quo and their stranglehold over the league. It’s meant that they had to seek alternative methods of beating Basel. And now, they’ve achieved their improbable success thanks to smart, savvy business in the transfer market.
Last summer, they assembled a core of…well, young boys, with all nine arrivals under the age of 25, all on the cheap. At 2.5 million euros, Nicolas Moumi Ngamaleu was the most expensive, and yet he has only played 1,452 minutes, an insignificant total relative to his fellow arrivals. Top-scorer Roger Assalé had moved on loan from TP Mazembe in early 2017, scoring six goals in 13 league games. But that was just a precursor to this season, where he has scored 12 and assisted 11 in 2,578 minutes. Add that to a total of 21 goals and 14 assists in 3,550 minutes, including four in the Europa League, and you have a real goal-scorer by far.
Assalé, though, is just one of a strong nucleus. Jean-Pierre Nsame, bought from second-tier Servette for just €900k, has scored 14 goals; Christian Fassnacht has scored 12 as the player with the fifth-highest minutes overall. The squad has the perfect synergy of players. The experienced elder statesmen include centre-back Steve von Bergen, who, at 34, has the highest minutes in the squad, as well as centre-forward Guillaume Hoarau, also 34. That’s the same Hoarau who led the line for a pre-QSI Paris Saint-Germain; at Young Boys since 2014, he has scored more than 15 goals in every season. Miralem Sulejmani retained a strong reputation once upon a time, but is now a vital part of the unit.
But the majority of the side remains true to its name. Kasim Nuhu, formerly of Mallorca, has found new life in Switzerland; as has Kevin Mbabu, who found it difficult to make inroads at Newcastle United. It was a similar case for Djibril Sow at Borussia Monchengladbach. They all joined simply in need of a platform to play, and Young Boys have provided that. David von Ballmoos, an academy graduate, is the primary keeper, while fellow graduate Michel Aebischer also boasts considerable game time.
It is truly a squad with a perfect balance. Financial prudence is key: a crucial factor, given Basel’s dominance for the majority of the past decade. But Young Boys have also acted as a springboard for moves to the big leagues. Denis Zakaria was sold to Monchengladbach for 12 million euros, making him the record sale by far, but there was also highly-rated keeper Yvon Mvogo (sold to Leipzig) and Yoric Ravet (to Freiburg). Combined, the trio earned them 21.5 million euros, as per Transfermarkt. In previous years, sales have included Yuya Kubo to Gent, Florent Hadergjonaj (at Huddersfield via Ingolstadt), Renato Steffen (Wolfsburg via Basel), Josef Martínez (who has been stunning for Atlanta United in the MLS after a stint at Torino), Roman Bürki (the now-Dortmund keeper), Senad Lulić (at Lazio), and the well-known Seydou Doumbia.
Young Boys are what you’d label as a ‘selling club’, but that is their identity, their model. They buy on the cheap, they develop, and they look to gain a profit in the market. It’s a sustainable philosophy that has reaped rewards in the season; one look at the passionate celebrations of the fans to the title tells us that much. Their focus lies mainly in Swiss and Francophone players, an underrated strategy that tells us the importance of language in settling into a new culture.
One man vital to the success is naturally the coach, Adi Hütter, who will undoubtedly be in demand this summer. As seen from the amount of goals (five players have 10+), he puts a focus on exciting, attacking play. They’re a high-pressing, intense side, which has helped them to shape a dynamic style of play. Their squad has the skillset to complement each other: there is pace and dynamism, but there is also physicality. It is the perfect marriage of styles that has seen them saunter to the title.
That’s Young Boys in a nutshell: smart, exciting, refreshing. A combination of dynamism, both on field and in the transfer market, has contributed to a squad that has been too strong domestically this season. There will be calls from bigger clubs for a number of the main players in the summer, including manager Hütter, whose style is coveted across the continent. But if Young Boys can maintain their off-field structure, there is no reason to believe they cannot maintain their success. They will remain young at heart eternally. Basel may be the best side in the league, but Young Boys are the exciting underdogs that have finally triumphed. It’s great to see, and its time for their story to be heard by the wider footballing community.