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The Grasshoppers have to fear relegation

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The Grasshoppers have to fear relegation

Three months ago, Los Angeles FC saved the Grasshoppers with the takeover. But now the club, which lost against Servette on Saturday, is worried about staying in the league. When will people who know the country and league finally care about GC?

At a loss: GC player after one of the many defeats this season.

Christian Merz / Keystone

After around three months under the American owners, the Grasshoppers’ results are devastating: rapid sporting decline, angry fans, new coach, new sports director, old worries. GC has picked up nine points and scored eight goals in 14 games since the Los Angeles club joined in January. Once again the question is: GC, quo vadis?

People who work in the club or who observe it closely paint a picture of a company with no concept and no leadership and sometimes chaotic conditions. The owners from Los Angeles emphasized when they started that they wanted to examine everything first. You underestimated the situation. President Stacy Johns said on “blue Sport” this week: “A lot of damage has been done over the last 20 years. What is missing most now is trust. It’s very difficult for us to build that trust.”

The start of the LAFC in mid-January was highly professional, the communication was decisive, the commitment was credible. At that time, GC was close to 6th place and the Championship Group, relegation was not an issue, and the plan to first take a look at everything and make personnel adjustments from the summer seemed smart. Things could actually only get better for GC than before under Chinese leadership.

Poor and complicated squad planning

Reality has caught up with dreams. This was also due to irritating decisions made by the new management. Harald Gärtner, the LAFC European boss, presented three offensive players as reinforcements during the winter break who have not yet even proven themselves as supplementary players: Dijon Kamberi, Oliver Batista Meier and Asumah Abubakar have contributed 0 goals and 0 assists to GC.

The castling of the sports director position, which had long been planned and was planned for the summer – the gardener’s confidant Stefan Schwarz came in for Bernt Haas – was hastily brought forward in view of the crisis at the end of March, and the coach Bruno Berner was released too late. Berner had, as they say, lost the dressing room – but he was only released after the three defeats within a few days against Lausanne, at YB and in Yverdon.

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Before the start of the relegation group, it looks as if GC will have to face the challenge against the runners-up in the Challenge League at the end of the season. After all: The new coach Marco Schällibaum knows the league, successfully coached FC Yverdon at the start of the season and is a club legend. If GC doesn’t get relegated, he should stay in office.

The obvious question is: Why aren’t people running the club who are familiar with the country and the league? The German Stefan Schwarz used to work primarily as a scout – and his boss and compatriot Gärtner is only in Zurich two or three days a week. Gärtner also takes care of the LAFC project in Innsbruck and the Americans’ cooperation in the youth sector with Bayern Munich. In mid-March he told the NZZ: “We have one hundred percent trust in the people involved.” The people involved, Haas and Berner, soon left – the problems in the club remained.

There’s a lot of that, not to mention the poorly assembled team. Squad planning is once again complicated because it is unclear which league GC will play in next season. The decision-makers at LAFC realized that 15 to 20 players would have to be replaced.

The conditions on campus are also “disastrous” on many levels due to mismanagement, as an insider says. The expensive facility in Niederhasli, far away from Zurich, is a symbol of GC’s sadness. The junior boss Fritz Schmid, hired in February, only lasted a few weeks. It’s not LAFC’s fault what the owners did before them. But it’s hardly enough to just be there for a few hours a week.

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The Board of Directors Gurovits calls for patience

During the winter break, Fredy Bickel, one of the most experienced sports directors in Switzerland, was hired – for the young talent. This measure also raises questions because Bickel’s qualities and his network in Switzerland could help in the professional field. His influence may at least have led to Schällibaum’s involvement.

Andras Gurovits can defend himself passionately and for a long time when it comes to development at the club. He has been on the GC board of directors for almost ten years and says: “I have experienced much worse times; once we were one day away from liquidation. The new owners are a real hit for GC. We can consider ourselves lucky that a competent club like LAFC has taken over from us.”

Several people in charge from Los Angeles were in Zurich, Benny Tran, as a specialist in corporate development, branding and marketing, even spent weeks. It might not be wrong to employ specialists in the area of ​​sports who are familiar with Switzerland. «The general conditions in Zurich are not ideal. And when things don’t go well in terms of sport, a lot of stories are exaggerated,” says Gurovits. «Since the banishment from the Hardturm we have always been fighting. Now we need patience.”

You’ve heard these words many times at GC. A president and a managing director with a connection to Switzerland will soon be introduced. And thanks to free tickets, over 10,000 spectators came to the Letzigrund twice in the spring for the home games against St. Gallen and Lausanne. René Gnägi, President of the GC Fan Club Eastern Switzerland, says he has mixed feelings, but feels that the supporters are willing to support the floundering team. “It was a shame the players didn’t deliver in the defeat against Lausanne in front of a beautiful backdrop.”

Gnägi says that GC is “extremely at risk of relegation”. A few years in the Challenge League would probably be cheaper than being in the midfield of the Super League, because if you stay in the league you would have to invest heavily in the squad. The deficit was 14 million francs last season, now it should be slightly less. And the new football stadium won’t be ready for occupancy for a few years, which really annoys Gurovits: “It’s a scandal how construction is repeatedly delayed by objections.”

Americans think big about business

In Austria, the LAFC is also pursuing an ambitious project. The once-glorious club Wacker Innsbruck is in the fifth-tier Tirol Liga, but is expected to play in the Bundesliga again in four or five years. Benny Tran explained this to the “Tiroler Tageszeitung”. He spoke of a new academy and a bigger stadium and said: “We think big about business.” Selling dreams – that’s what the Californians can do. But Los Angeles is no closer to Zurich than Shanghai.

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The Chinese also thought big of business at GC; for the then president Sky Sun, the sky was the limit. He talked about titles and about anchoring the Grasshoppers among the international elite – and left a pile of broken pieces behind. Americans and Germans now have to sweep this together under extreme conditions. The once proud record champions GC have experienced many stress tests, the “Sonntags-Zeitung” recently wrote: “Since the last championship title in 2003, GC has used hundreds of millions of francs and hundreds of players – and yet has never made any progress.”

What remains is the legend. And eternal hope, even if the Grasshoppers have been a hopeless case for 20 years. “If you sometimes have to be afraid of wearing a shirt in the city of Zurich because you could be attacked by certain FCZ fans, things are going in the wrong direction,” says René Gnägi, a GC fan for almost forty years.

There are several focal points that once again create a delicate mixture. If there had been no buyer in the winter, forced relegation would have become a serious issue. A company that burns a million francs every month is actually not viable. President Stacy Johns said this week: “We understand that this is a big project.”

It doesn’t sound as if the potent LAFC could soon lose interest in the Grasshopper club despite a false start. There is still time to get used to the culture in Switzerland. Because there are no relegated teams in the entertainment-oriented Major League Soccer in the USA.

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