While FC Basel 1893 have enjoyed domestic dominance since the turn of the century – lifting eight Swiss titles in the past 12 years – only recently have they started making an impression on the continent. Murat Yakin's side reached last season's UEFA Europa League semi-finals, where they were beaten by eventual winners Chelsea FC. Basel got the better of the west London club this term, though, opening their UEFA Champions League Group E campaign with a 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge.
Perhaps Basel's biggest asset throughout this period has been their burgeoning youth department. While a Swiss record four successive Super League championships have provided a degree of financial ballast, Basel would not be where they are today without the success of their academy. The list of talents to have been scouted, developed and integrated into the setup is a lengthy one.
Valentin Stocker is the latest to have established himself in the first team since making his senior debut in 2007. Now also a regular for Switzerland – who have qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup – Stocker announced himself to Europe when striking a first-leg winner against FC Bayern München in the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League round of 16. The attacking midfielder, 24, is the latest academy product to attract interest from elsewhere.
Granit Xhaka, currently at VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, left St. Jakob-Park when he was just 19. The sale of Xherdan Shaqiri to Bayern also raised considerable funds. Shaqiri had been with Basel since the age of nine and is considered his country's most gifted talent. With the income from these sales having been invested in a new academy – opened in August – it seems safe to assume there is plenty more of the same to come.
Though Basel continue to act with circumspection in their work with promising youngsters, the rewards are tangible. Despite defeat by FC Schalke 04 on matchday two, the UEFA Champions League knockout stage is feasible, while more silverware at home looks likely under the increasingly respected Yakin. Most importantly of all, though, the long-term future appears to be in safe hands.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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