Top of the second division and on target for a second stab at the Swiss top flight, Liechtenstein's FC Vaduz are hoping that they will be ready for the next level if they go up this time.
Seven points clear of pre-season favourites FC Lausanne-Sport – who were somewhat preoccupied with their UEFA Europa League group stage campaign in the autumn – Vaduz appear to be on target to return to the top division, yet the perennial Liechtenstein Cup winners are increasingly aware that promotion can have its downsides too.
"There is no sense in getting promoted until we have first established a solid base," said Dutch coach Eric Orie, who took charge at the Rheinpark Stadium in April 2010. "We want consistency, not chaos. That's what has been lacking in the past, despite promotion in 2008."
That elevation came under 117-times capped Swiss international Heinz Hermann, who gave way to erstwhile Germany international Pierre Littbarski midway through the 2008/09 campaign. The reshuffle was to no avail, though, as Vaduz finished bottom of the table and were relegated, with home crowds having dwindled from 2,000 to half that number.
Littbarski looked to pick up the pieces the following season, bringing in a raft of German players, including Emil Noll and Michael Stegmayer, both of whom had Bundesliga experience. However, with Vaduz unable to sustain a promotion bid, the 1990 FIFA World Cup winner was fired in April 2010, with Orie taking over.
The club's owners charged the Utrecht-born former defender with forming a squad based on talent from Liechtenstein and the nearby Swiss cantons; Orie listened, and brought in players like central defenders Luca Denicolà and Roland Schwegler, both former Grasshopper-Club players, as well as Liechtenstein internationals David Hasler and Yves Oehri.
Change did not bring instant success. Vaduz lost their first three games of the season by an aggregate score of 9-2, and were 1-0 down in the closing minutes of their fourth only for Marco Colocci and Pascal Bader to turn the game around with two late goals. It was the start of an ongoing run of 12 straight wins, a Swiss second-tier record.
"We have found a concept," said Orie. "We are not spectacular, but efficient." He explained away those early-season problems by noting that he "had 15 new players to integrate in the summer and had to find the right mix" and feels his belief that change was necessary has been vindicated. "We wanted to get away from that German style," he explained.
With the influx of local talent helping to reconnect the club with its supporters, the arrival of FC Basel 1893 right-back Reto Zanni is a further sign that Vaduz are rebuilding forcefully. "I am proud of what I have achieved with FCB," said the 30-year-old. "At the same time, I am happy to be starting a new chapter in my life at Vaduz." The three-time Swiss champion will be hoping to be back in the top division by the autumn.
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