Swiss football faces a summer of change after the decision to alter the structure of the Nationalliga ahead of next season - an upheaval which has met with a mixed response.
Since 1986 Swiss league football has involved a two-phase system. At the midway stage of the season, the 12-team Nationalliga A splits into two and the top eight sides enter a springtime championship round, taking with them just half of the points acquired during the autumn. The bottom four clubs join the top four teams from Nationalliga B in a fight to retain their status.
Time for change
The presidents of the Nationalliga clubs decided on 22 March, however, that the time had come for change. The top division will be slimmed down to ten teams, who will play each other four times over the course of the season. To appease the remaining Nationalliga clubs, the second tier has been expanded to include 16 teams, who will each play their opponents twice in a 30-match season.
Netzer has doubts
The move has not pleased everyone. The former German international Günter Netzer, now a prominent Swiss television commentator, said: "The relegation zone is an extraordinary invention that Switzerland should not give up. It makes the league twice as exciting and this is very important for a small country like Switzerland that faces huge competition from televised foreign football."
'More positive future'
Nevertheless, the club presidents believe the new system will improve the financial outlook for Switzerland's top clubs. "The new system should help the rehabilitation process and build the foundations for a more positive sporting and economic future for Swiss football," said the league chairman, Jean-François Kurz.
New top ten
According to Kurz, sponsorship revenue was not sufficient for the 12 top-flight clubs. The club presidents knew that and so approved the new system. To claim a place in the new top ten, the clubs will have to meet certain economical and technical, as well as sporting, criteria - something which represents a serious challenge for the lower-ranked clubs.
FC Aarau sports manager Fredy Strasser said: "Until now we've managed to avoid relegation thanks to good organisation. From now on it will be possible only with a lot of hard work and efficiency."
Young Boys' fears
Though in favour of the new structure, BSC Young Boys manager Fredy Bickel fears the bigger number of clubs in the second division could prove disadvantageous. "It is dangerous to have 16 clubs in the second division," he said. "The gap between the two divisions will increase."
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