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For more than a century, the finest watches in Europe have been stamped with the words 'Swiss made'. The same could now be said of some of Europe's finest footballers.
With precision-tooled efficiency, FC Basel 1893's academy has spent the past decade producing gifted young players. The alumni include Ivan Rakitić, Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka. Such talent has helped the Rot-Blauen win the Swiss Super League three seasons running, knock Manchester United FC out of the UEFA Champions League and, last season, twice beat Chelsea FC.
The academy's success is due largely to Gisela Oeri, wife of Andreas Oeri, the heir to pharmaceutical giant Roche. In 1999, she was invited to a game and, hooked, agreed to join the board. Three years later, Oeri became club president, investing in scouting and an enlightened youth policy. The goal is to integrate as many graduates into the first team as possible, instilling in all players the same philosophy, so they follow the same code of values and style of play as they rise through the ranks.
Shaqiri was just eight when he was spotted playing for his village team. Dubbed 'the Alpine Messi', Shaqiri created both goals in the seismic 2-1 win over United in 2011, and was then signed by FC Bayern München. Once likened to Bastian Schweinsteiger by Ottmar Hitzfeld, Granit Xhaka joined the Rot-Blauen aged 10. By 19, he was a member of the team that reached the last 16 in 2011/12. Now 21, he is prospering at VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, while elder brother Taulant is a first-choice centre-back for Basel.
Ivan Rakitić was so good when he was 16 that José Mourinho wanted to sign him for Chelsea FC. The young playmaker stayed in Basel, making his first-team debut at 17. After one full season in the Super League he joined FC Schalke 04, before winning the UEFA Europa League with Sevilla FC last season and transferring to FC Barcelona in the summer.
More than 40 players have progressed from academy to first team since 2000. Gökhan Inler never quite broke through at Basel, but is thriving at SSC Napoli, while Swiss international keeper Yann Sommer is at Mönchengladbach after 11 years at the club. Graduates in Basel's current squad include centre-back Arlind Ajeti, midfielder Fabian Frei, full-back Philipp Degen and his brother David, a midfielder.
Twelve months ago, the academy moved into a bright, new campus. The building features 120 circular windows that form a graph of the club's league position since it began. The last three, of course, are at the top – proof that something is working.
This is an abridged version of an article that appears in the latest issue of Champions Matchday, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League. Champions Matchday is available in print and in digital format on Apple Newsstand, where the first three issues of this campaign are free of charge. You can follow the magazine on Twitter @ChampionsMag.
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