Football Features

How FC Basel could have lined up if their star players had stayed put

By Squawka News

Published: 16:00, 20 March 2023

Europe’s top five leagues often dominate the conversation when it comes to the top teams in the continent, but there are others who may want to be considered. 

Although the strength of the league as a whole may not be high, over the years FC Basel have mixed with some of Europe’s best, owing to their domination of Swiss football. Between 2007/08 and 2016/17, Basel secured eight consecutive league titles, taking their total tally to 20 across all iterations of the top flight.

However, the past five years have seen a new team take control of the Swiss Super League, with Young Boys winning their 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th titles, before Zurich stopped their run last season. In that time Basel have finished second four times and third once, including a runners-up position in 2021/22.

Despite having slightly dropped in the standings, Basel also remain perennial knock-out round qualifiers in European competition and their consistency is even more impressive given they have to regenerate their first-team squad every year – almost without fail. They will be appearing in the quarter-finals of this season’s Europa Conference League, for example, where Nice await them next month.

Over the past few summers, Basel have had to sell a number of their star players to bigger clubs across Europe, but how would they look today had all their stars stayed put?

Goalkeeper: Yann Sommer

How FC Basel could have lined up if they hadn't sold their star players

Joined from: Basel’s academy

Current club: Bayern Munich

Nationality: Switzerland

After progressing through Basel’s academy and excelling on loan at FC Vaduz in Liechtenstein (of all places) and then Grasshoppers in his homeland, Sommer was finally promoted to first-choice goalkeeper at the club in 2011.

He played a key role in the four successive league titles that followed before embarking on a new adventure with Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga, where he has established himself as one of the finest shot-stoppers in the country, prompting Bayern Munich to sign him in January.

Right-Back: Silvan Widmer

Joined from: Udinese

Current club: Mainz 05

Nationality: Switzerland

Born in Aarau, Widmer actually made a name for himself at another Swiss club before one of Europe’s top five leagues came sniffing around. In 2013, he joined Udinese and enjoyed five years in Serie A, before Basel brought him back to Switzerland in 2018. Three years for Bebbi would following before Widmer would be on the move again, this time joining Mainz in 2021, where he remains.

Centre-Back: Manuel Akanji

How FC Basel could have lined up if they hadn't sold their star players

Joined from: Winterthur

Current club: Manchester City

Nationality: Switzerland

Manuel Akanji helped Basel win two Swiss league titles during his time at the club before leaving for Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2018.

Since that move, Akanji has been establishing himself as one of the most exciting ball-playing defenders in Europe and helped Dortmund reassert themselves as one of the Bundesliga‘s most-feared teams, before Manchester City naturally came knocking in the summer.

He is now one of Pep Guardiola’s trusty ball-carrying centre-backs.

Centre-Back: Fabian Schar

Joined from: FC Wil 1900

Current club: Newcastle United

Nationality: Switzerland

A reliable defender with a penchant for scoring goals, as eight in 75 caps for Switzerland attests, Fabian Schar emerged as a defender of some repute while playing for Basel in the Champions League.

After being continually linked with a move to the Premier League, Schar instead pitched up at Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga in 2017 and helped the club stave off the threat of relegation in his first season.

In his second campaign there, Hoffenheim went one better and secured Champions League qualification via a fourth-placed Bundesliga finish.

Schar, however, only made six appearances in the league, down from 24 the previous year, and moved to Deportivo de La Coruna. He impressed during his stint there and finally got his Premier League move, joining Newcastle United in 2018, where he remains.

Left-Back: Omar Alderete

Joined from: Huracan

Current club: Getafe

Nationality: Paraguay

Although typically a centre-back, Omar Alderete has played at left-back at various stages across his career, so he will nicely slot in as our No. 3. After rising to prominence in his native Paraguay with Cerro Porteno, Alderete moved to Huracan in Argentina before Basel quickly swooped in and took a gamble on the unheralded defender.

His time at the St. Jakob-Park, though, would be brief, with the 26-year-old lasting just one season before Hertha Berlin signed him in 2020. He has since gone on to enjoy loan spells at Valencia in La Liga and now Getafe, where he is a mainstay at the back for Quique Sanchez Flores.

Central Midfield: Mohamed Elneny

How FC Basel could have lined up if they hadn't sold their star players

Joined from: El Mokawloon

Current club: Arsenal

Nationality: Egypt

Following in the footsteps of his compatriot Mohamed Salah (more on him in a bit), Mohamed Elneny joined Basel in January 2013 to compensate for the departure of Granit Xhaka to Borussia Monchengladbach.

The move was a resounding success, albeit after a relatively slow start, as Elneny became a driving force in the club’s midfield. His impressive displays attracted the attention of Arsenal, where he initially appeared to flourish since his move in January 2016.

Despite his popularity among Arsenal fans, Elneny dropped down the pecking order and spent the 2019/20 season loan at Besiktas. However, he has proven a reliable metronomic midfielder for Mikel Arteta when called upon and even renewed his contract last summer.

Centre Midfield: Granit Xhaka

Joined from: Basel’s academy

Current club: Arsenal

Nationality: Switzerland

Xhaka has captained the Swiss national side, forced his way into Basel’s starting XI as a teenager, marshalled Borussia Monchengladbach’s midfield for four years, and is now potentially on the cusp of Premier League glory with Arsenal. The hard-hitting and tenacious midfielder brings a real grit and resilience to Arteta’s side. His humble beginnings saw him progress through the Basel academy, before going on to shine at Gladbach and eventually making his way to north London.

Centre Midfield: Ivan Rakitic

Joined from: Basel’s academy

Current club: Sevilla

Nationality: Croatia

Another player who Basel struggled to hold on to for too long was Ivan Rakitic, who after netting an impressive 11 goals in 34 league games was snapped up by Schalke 04 in 2007. (You didn’t remember he played for Schalke either, did you?)

A fruitful spell in the Bundesliga was followed by a career-defining period with Sevilla, where his form attracted the attention of European heavyweights Barcelona.

Moving to Catalunya in 2014, Rakitic won plenty of major honours and also reached the 2018 World Cup final with Croatia, which cemented his reputation as one of the finest midfielders around. After six successful years at Barcelona, Rakitic returned to Sevilla in 2020.

Left-Wing: Xherdan Shaqiri

How FC Basel could have lined up if they hadn't sold their star players

Joined from: Basel’s academy

Current club: Chicago Fire

Nationality: Switzerland

Nicknamed the ‘Powercube’ due to his stocky frame, Xherdan Shaqiri further highlights the strength of Basel’s academy, having risen through the ranks to become a first-team star at St Jakob’s Park.

Basel actually managed to get plenty of game time out of Shaqiri, hanging on to him for three seasons before he departed for Bayern Munich, where he won the Champions League in 2013. The prodigiously gifted winger went on to have spells at Inter, Stoke, Liverpool and Lyon to really bulk up his impressive CV, before joining Chicago Fire in the MLS last year.

Right-Wing: Mohamed Salah

How FC Basel could have lined up if they hadn't sold their star players

Joined from: El Mokawloon

Current club: Liverpool

Nationality: Egypt

Whoever is doing Basel’s scouting in Egypt deserves a raise. Preceding the arrival of Elneny was Salah, who made the move to Switzerland in 2012, quickly establishing himself as one of the brightest young talents on the continent soon afterwards.

An ill-fated spell at Chelsea has been the single anomaly in what’s otherwise been a successful career so far. Salah lit up Serie A at Roma, following a similarly dazzling spell with Fiorentina, before Liverpool broke their transfer record to sign him for £36 million in June 2017.

‘The Egyptian King’ went on to win the Premier League Golden Boot with 32 goals (44 in all competitions) in his debut season and is showing no signs of slowing down (with 178 goals in 293 appearances), helping the Reds secure their first league title in 30 years in 2020.

Striker: Breel Embolo

Joined from: Basel’s academy

Current club: Monaco

Nationality: Switzerland

One of the most recent jewels in the Basel crown, Cameroonian-born Breel Embolo exploded onto the scene as a youngster.

The forward was one of three teenagers in Switzerland’s Euro 2016 squad and netted 30 goals in 86 games in all competitions for Basel before leaving the club for Schalke.

Embolo has suffered from injuries during his time in Germany, managing 12 goals in 61 games across all competitions for Schalke, before moving to Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer of 2019 and eventually finding his way to Monaco last year.