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The story of FC Zurich and its coaches

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The story of FC Zurich and its coaches

The next coaching change is coming to FC Zurich, and once again a coach is leaving who was a dream solution and a perfect fit. From Challandes to Henriksen – a story of emotions and disappointments.

Shakehands, everything is fine: President Ancillo Canepa with FCZ coach Bo Henriksen (right).

Ennio Leanza / Keystone

When Bo Henriksen left the media room on Friday afternoon and the microphones and cameras were switched off, the FC Zurich coach explained to the media what had not just taken place: a funeral.

“Hey, it’s not a funeral!” shouts the Dane and leaves. Apparently he got the impression that an abdication had taken place – his own as FCZ coach. He is lively, he gave the “happy Bo” in top form: as an FCZ maker of happiness.

The FCZ is not so happy right now. In terms of sport, he is in crisis; the restructuring of the club is causing unrest. On Wednesday, President Ancillo Canepa sent out the message with the content that came as no surprise after weeks of back and forth: the club and coach are parting ways at the end of the season. It’s not so clear who is leaving whom.

What is clear is that the separation will take place sooner if the points are missing. This is not an issue for Henriksen. He prefers to talk about the anticipation of opening a beer after Saturday’s derby win against GC. He raves about the cup final, even though FCZ is only in the quarterfinals. You break up and have a party, not a funeral.

Lucien Favre, the coach who left FCZ even though he wanted to stay

Always emotions, always exaggeration: The impression fits the FCZ and the recent history with its coaches. When Bernard Challandes had to leave in the spring of 2010, a film of Challandes’ time at FCZ flashed across the screens in Letzigrund. Championship celebrations in 2009, a bit maudlin, with the impression of a funeral, as if the FCZ had not fired a coach, but had lost him.

Challandes was the first coach hired by President Canepa. The FCZ presented him in mid-June 2007, Canepa talked about 21 applications and said: “He was our dream coach from the start.” Apart from, of course, Lucien Favre, the champion coach in 2006 and 2007, who the FCZ would have liked to keep but had lost shortly before.

Canepa described that he had been informed by Favre via text message about Hertha Berlin’s interest; that Favre wrote that he had no desire to leave the FCZ. The FCZ is said to have only found out via the media that Favre had flown to Germany for negotiations. The interest in assistant coach Harald Gämperle also irritated the FCZ, “obviously different customs prevail in the Bundesliga,” said Canepa.

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The FCZ of the Canepa era had to learn a lot over the next decade and a half about other countries, other customs – and perhaps about itself, because it developed its own customs. With trainers it was often about great emotions and complete dedication, in the end about disappointments and mutual irritations, and very, very, very definitely, 200 percent, about exaggerations.

Champion coach 2009: Bernard Challandes (right) with the president Ancillo Canepa and the players Silvan Aegerter and Hannu Tihinen (from left).

Walter Bieri / Keystone

Urs Fischer, the coach who the FCZ discovered and misunderstood

Challandes was followed by club legend Urs Fischer. The FCZ promoted him from its own youth ranks. It was the second coach Canepa hired. Nevertheless, he said: “I have never been so sure that I made the right choice with a trainer.” And: “After this preparation phase, I am 200 percent convinced of Fischer.”

Two years later, Fischer had to leave, severely disillusioned, in a discord that rarely occurs in a relationship between club and legend. As Fischer later found more and more recognition, in Thun and Basel and especially at Union Berlin, Canepa was able to see himself as Fischer’s discoverer. And the fact that he discovered him, but later misjudged him, was explained in the FCZ by the fact that Fischer was still an immature coach.

After Fischer came Rolf Fringer, a mature trainer, but with a similar path: from great love to deep dislike. Fringer had previously been a coach at eleven different places, but he described FCZ as a “dream club”. This time over 50 trainers are said to have been offered, at the top of the list from the start: Fringer. Down after 19 games: Fringer. The dream coach/dream club relationship ended in court.

Then: Urs Meier, often underestimated, as a player and as a coach. The FCZ also promoted him from its own youth ranks. Meier led the FCZ to the Cup victory in 2014, but what is no less remembered is how he moderated the goalkeeper change from David Da Costa to Yannick Brecher in the spring of 2015. “He wasn’t that good in a lot of games,” Meier said of Da Costa. A few minutes later: “David was a goalie who did a good job.” It was said at the time that the Canepa couple had left Meier alone.

And Meier was completely, completely, completely alone, namely fired, four months later, after three rounds of the 2015/16 championship.

Cup winning coach 2014: Urs Meier in mid-June 2015, a month and a half before the dismissal.

Ennio Leanza / Keystone

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Sami Hyypiä, the coach the players no longer wanted

Sooner or later, a system became apparent in Canepa-FCZ: a coach’s choice was often a reaction to the coach who had to leave the club. The young coach Meier was followed by a personality from the big football world: Sami Hyypiä, Champions League winner as a player, briefly in the Bundesliga as a coach, but with little experience. At the last employer before FCZ, Brighton, he won 3 of 22 championship games. But Canepa said: “Hyypiä has carte blanche.”

The free ride led to relegation. Hyypiä complained about the frugality of the players, who felt insulted because he demanded a lot of work and showed little humor. At that time, all joy seemed to disappear from the club. No separation was as humiliating as saying goodbye to Hyypiä. He asked the team the question of trust, the players conferred and gave their thumbs down.

Successor: Uli Forte, who had won the GC Cup three years earlier with his city rivals and said about GC on June 1, 2013: “We have laid a foundation this season, now we are building further” – and on the same day new YB trainer was presented.

When the FCZ presented him, Canepa said: “I immediately had a name in mind.” Forte took over on May 13, 2016, exactly ten years after the legendary FCZ championship title in Basel. There was an anniversary celebration in the Volkshaus these days with concerts, video links and so on. Everything was somehow typical FCZ, emotionally charged, nostalgic, nice, chaotic, relegation, cup victory.

Relegation and cup victory in 2016, promotion in 2017: the coach Uli Forte with the striker Raphael Dwamena.

Ennio Leanza / Keystone

Forte accompanied the FCZ through the Challenge League, rose again and led them back among the top teams in the Super League, and yet in 2018 he had to make way for the next alternative, the next coach from their own youth, Ludovic Magnin. He was considered the foster son of Heliane and Ancillo Canepa, “we have a very personal relationship,” said the president. “With the canepas I can be who I am,” said Magnin.

Magnin also brought FCZ a cup victory, but little consistency. Massimo Rizzo replaced him in 2020, he too: with FCZ heart, but without charisma, the way he was. “Should I give another boring answer?” Rizzo once asked.

André Breitenreiter, who was a child of the Bundesliga, not a foster son of the FCZ

Then, the return of the Bundesliga: André Breitenreiter, player at Hamburger SV, coach at Schalke. “We stay humble, we know where we come from,” said Breitenreiter boringly, until the people of Zurich got to a place where they could no longer be caught in 2022, to first place.

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“I not only enjoyed my time at FCZ, I loved it!” said the master coach Breitenreiter in the Tamedia newspapers on Friday. But the time ended with the symbiosis of all the coach-club relationships of the last 15 years: with the customs of the Bundesliga and the customs that the FCZ had adopted.

Canepa said he “actually rules out” Breitenreiter returning to Germany – “André is smart enough that he certainly wouldn’t go to Hertha.” But on the day of the last championship game, Breitenreiter, a child of the Bundesliga, not a foster son of FCZ, said that he was moving to Hoffenheim. A Favre change light, 15 years later.

The FCZ master coach in 2022, without a job since being fired in Hoffenheim: André Breitenreiter.

Ennio Leanza / Keystone

Franco Foda came, and to this day nobody knows what he should have been, a copy or a counter-proposal. The 200 percent with which Canepa had once believed in Fischer had become half. He said: “I am 100 percent convinced: Franco Foda is a perfect fit for FC Zurich.”

It took less than three months for Foda to no longer fit, and when his successor, Bo Henriksen, came in autumn 2022, Canepa said he was 100 percent convinced of him. And later in the “NZZ am Sonntag”: “We soon felt that he could be a perfect fit for the FCZ, he was our dream solution.” The journalist replied: “You said exactly the same thing about Franco Foda.” Canepa: “There is never a guarantee that things will turn out well. This is also the case with marriage.”

Faith, love, marriage. Great feelings, pure FCZ.

After Breitenreiter’s statements made the rounds at the beginning of August 2023, he recognized early on that “success in Zurich was taken for granted. The club wasn’t prepared to invest in the next step,” Canepa told “Blick”: “If he had stayed at FCZ, he would at least still have a job today.”

Who knows. Of course, Breitenreiter has not had a job since being fired in Hoffenheim. But: Hyypiä has not been a head coach anywhere at FCZ since the dismissal. Fringer: hasn’t been a head coach anywhere since. Foda too: hasn’t been a head coach anywhere since then, maybe soon in Kosovo. Rizzo didn’t coach a club again, he now works in the association. Meier still trained in Rapperswil, but he has also been without a coaching job for five years.

Who does this say more about: the coaches or the FCZ?

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