In November 2008, FC Luzern were staring into the abyss. Twelve games into the Swiss Super League season, they had picked up just two points, and propped up the table having already been through two coaches – Ciriaco Sforza and Roberto Morinini – since the summer.
Disaster was just about averted in the spring as, under Rolf Fringer, they battled their way into a relegation/promotion play-off, beating FC Lugano 5-1 over two legs to cling onto their top-flight place. That summer, the 1988/89 Swiss champions pulled off a major coup in persuading playmaker Hakan Yakin to move to central Switzerland and since then, the only way has been up.
After a respectable fourth-placed finish last season, Fringer's side enjoyed an impressive autumn and entered the winter break a point clear of FC Basel 1893 at the top of the table. As the 53-year-old Fringer is fond of saying: "We have to work hard for everything, but if we do, we will be rewarded." This season, his ever-industrious charges seem to have been working harder than ever, with marquee results including a 4-1 win at Basel on 14 August in which Yakin scored twice. "
We have played a half-season which went almost perfectly," said Yakin, who won the 2002 title at Basel and, at 33, has been capped 86 times by Switzerland.
Yakin's role in the side is a major one, but he has received able support from a big summer acquisition, his one-time international team-mate Daniel Gygax. "Signings like that would have been unthinkable not too long ago," said club president Walter Stierli of the one-time LOSC Lille Métropole and 1. FC Nürnberg winger's decision to sign up.
A tilt at the title might also have seemed a little delusional at the start of the campaign, especially after two defeats by FC Utrecht brought UEFA Europa League elimination in the third qualifying round. Perhaps chastened by that, Fringer noted: "We have achieved nothing yet. There's no use changing our goals and talking about the title." However, the coach – who led FC Aarau to their third title in 1993 after a 79-year drought – may not be as much of a realist as he seems. "When I won that surprise championship with Aarau, I had also said that it makes no sense to talk about the championship. But deep inside of me, I knew that we would win it."
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