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‘I represent Switzerland – we don’t have any problems with the Swiss guys or immigrants’ 20 juin 2014

Posted by Acturca in Immigration, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Guardian (UK) Friday, June 20, 2014, p. 11
Sport ~ World Cup 2014

James Riach

Gokhan Inler explains to James Riach how the national team has combined a diverse group of players.

Gokhan Inler puts it quite simply. « We are all playing for Switzerland, » he says when asked about his team’s cosmopolitan composition. « What will happen in the future, I don’t know, but we all feel Swiss and are happy to play for Switzerland. The important thing is respect. »

Inler’s sentiments of unity rang true during Switzerland’s World Cup opener with Ecuador, a stunning 2-1 comeback that sets Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side up well for tonight’s crunch match with France. Les Bleus impressed against Honduras and both will covet top spot in Group E, potentially avoiding a second round meeting with Argentina.

There is a startling picture of Hitzfeld’s team that went viral earlier this year. Following Switzerland’s national referendum to introduce a new quota on European Union immigrants, a German TV channel edited a pre-match photo of the side and wiped out those who would not be eligible under the new rules. Only three players were left standing.

Haris Seferovic scored the last-minute winner against Ecuador but could have been playing for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Admir Mehmedi, who equalised in Brasilia, was born in Macedonia. Yet there was no sense of separation at the final whistle. Switzerland, a young and vibrant side of varying backgrounds, are a united force.

« Our strength is our team spirit, » says Inler, the captain. « You win together and you lose together. You can’t win alone. We have many young players that play across Europe and we have good technical players that can make something happen, but the team spirit is key. »

The immigration quota is an issue that has split opinions across the Alpine country, where German, French and Italian regions all offer differing views. The referendum in February was won by only 0.6%.

Switzerland’s team is an eclectic mix of talent. Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Napoli’sValon Behrami were born

in Kosovo – then Yugoslavia – Johan Djourou hails from Ivory Coast, while Inler has Turkish parents and played for Turkey’s Under-21s. Shaqiri has the flags of Switzerland, Kosovo and Albania on his boots and there are other players with roots in Cape Verde, Spain, Chile, Croatia and Serbia.

« I represent Switzerland and I want to show that whoever comes into the national team must give everything, » says Inler. « I care only about the team. More than half of our side are second-generation immigrants. Everyone integrates and respects each other, we don’t have any problems with Swiss guys or immigrants. It’s normal. Some of us have grown up in Switzerland like me and others haven’t.

« I’m an easy person, I’m quiet but when I must speak, I speak. I try and help the players with my experience and they respect me. It’s important for me that I can speak to everybody and they can come to me if there is something wrong. I speak also with the coach, it’s important that everyone is together and we are a unit. I look out for the young players, I help try to integrate. I think we have done a good job up until now. »

Switzerland have transformed under Hitzfeld since the 2010 World Cup, when they shocked Spain in their opening match but then failed to score against Chile and Honduras and exited at the group stage.

Their dour reputation has slowly faded. After South Africa old heads such as Alexander Frei departed, with Hitzfeld responding to criticism and adding dynamism to the team’s approach. Switzerland have risen to sixth in the Fifa rankings following an unbeaten qualifying campaign but this will be « Der General’s » last act in a stellar 30 years in management. The former Lazio coach Vladimir Petkovic will replace Hitzfeld after the World Cup.

« He has had a great six years with us and has done a great job, he’s grown up with us and has changed our mentality. We have made two World Cups. We must thank him because to develop a young national team is difficult, » says Inler.

« After South Africa, we changed everything. The old players have gone and he made me captain. It was the start of a new era. Now our young players have grown up from being in the Under-17s [in the side that won the 2009 World Cup] and the mentality of the coach has changed things. He’s now a little bit softer and the personality of the team has changed.

« He respects every player but we must give respect to him. He’s a quiet coach but he can also be angry. On his first day he said: ‘We must have respect, if we have this we can do well’. That’s how it has been for six years and I can only praise him. »

Inler, one of Switzerland’s key players, is hoping to lead the country to their best ever World Cup finish. They have reached the quarter-finals on three occasions but not since 1954, and the 29-year-old is hoping a more positive approach can help them progress to the latter stages.

« The World Cup is the World Cup. You can win the first game but then you have two more to win. In 2010, we were disappointed because we got a big three points against Spain and then needed another point or another victory but we couldn’t make it. This year we must be positive, if we give 100% ,we can beat any team.

« Whoever goes to the tournament must play to win it, but our first objective is to qualify from the group. Then anything can happen. We are a young team that likes to play football, a team who makes good attacks but is close together on the pitch, able to counter-attack.

« We are hungry and bold. The team has grown up, the young players have grown up. Now is the important time for us to show it. »


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