Vladimir Petkovic hadn’t had such beautiful worries in a while

Swiss footballers will play in the Nations League on Friday in Belgium and on Monday in Iceland. For Vladimir Petkovic, it’s also about finding the team and the hierarchy of the future.

Vladimir Petkovic looks down at the city of Zurich from the hotel window on the 15th floor and says that he and his team want to go high again. It’s Petkovic again from before who speaks here, the self-confident one who will later even say: “I hope they’ll make life difficult for me and get me into trouble”. Only a month ago he would never have dared to say such a sentence in public. Life as a Swiss national coach was already difficult enough after all the affairs and sporting setbacks, when he didn’t need to wish himself any more problems on his neck.

Grace of fast-paced life

But a few weeks were enough, and nothing is the same as it was then: a successful press conference in September to work through the World Cup, later a 6-0 win against Iceland – and everything seemed forgiven and forgotten. Football can sometimes be so fast-moving and gracious. And that’s why there are completely different themes before the matches against Belgium on Friday and Iceland on Monday. The biggest problem for Petkovic is that he has to choose the right players. He hasn’t had such nice worries for a long time. He even wants his players to make it really hard for him to choose and get him into trouble; that players like Nico Elvedi, Florent Hadergjonaj or Djibril Sow prove that he has rightly taken them into account in the latest line-up.

Vladimir Petkovic Honours 

Player 

FK Sarajevo
  • Yugoslav First League: 1984–85

Manager 

Malcantone Agno
  • 1. Liga: 2002–03
Lazio
  • Coppa Italia: 2012–13

Nations League

Change light – or more?

The good thing for Petkovic is that he still has plenty of time to find out who the players he trusts really are and what the team of the future should look like. Only in March, when the “right” qualification for Euro 2020 begins, does he need to know who he’s going to bet on. Until then, the Nations League is an experimental field for the coach; this newly created UEFA competition is something between a friendly match and a serious fight. Only in spring will we know what actually happened – a hard upheaval, a light upheaval or just a few modifications.

Petkovic leaves all doors open for the time being. The 34-year-old Captain Stephan Lichtsteiner takes part in this game, another like Valon Behrami refused and complained about Petkovic’s actions. What is certain is that the old hierarchy is shaking: Behrami has resigned, other former leaders like Johan Djourou are missing from the squad. Lichtsteiner is still the official captain, but his future in the team is also open. He has not been called up for the games against Belgium and Iceland. Whether he will be back in November (against Qatar and Belgium), Petkovic left open. Only when the coach knows that he can rely on the boys will he tell the old people that he definitely no longer needs them. The axis that the team should carry into the future is already known: It will consist of granite Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Yann Sommer. Without Lichtsteiner, Xhaka will be captain and the other two vice-captains.

Because the Nations League still has to find its role in the international calendar, every coach keeps it as he wants it to be. Some take the Nations League seriously, others less. And Petkovic is somewhere in the middle. He says the games are “a mixture of security and experimental phase“. Translated: The result is not unimportant, but more important is the development of the team. And that doesn’t just include personnel issues. To know more about OVO Casino, check them out!

Iniesta was supposed to bring Tiki-Taka to Japan – but so far this is not going to work out properly

Stars like Andres Iniesta and Lukas Podolski play for Vissel Kobe. They are part of a worldwide project of the Japanese online trading group Rakuten. But there is no sporting success.

“If you want to shop, Rakuten is the place.” In the Noevir Stadium, this slogan glows in the club colours white on red, clearly visible in the middle of the scoreboard. The Japanese letters are so big that they steal the show even from the information about players’ names and scores. This is disturbing, one might think. But if you see the results of the last weeks, you can imagine: Isn’t it better if the really important things aren’t so obvious?

The home team Vissel Kobe, sponsored by the online trading company Rakuten, doesn’t achieve the desired results with their well-known purchases. For six weeks the team, in which two world champions and several national players are under contract, did not win a game. Last weekend’s last encounter ended in front of a home crowd with a 1-1 win over Nagasaki. Lukas Podolski, who came as a beaming star about a year ago, was particularly visible with his head shaking and shoulders hanging.

After the final whistle, the German captain pulled his teammates into the corner and bowed humbly to the fans. “You don’t have any other arguments,” he said after the game. The 2014 World Champion in Japan has already learnt so much: When you play a catastrophic figure, you have to make yourself as small as possible afterwards. In this respect, Podolski, who was brought to Kobe as team leader, was actually a role model in the last games.

Goals missed

Vissel Kobe is just the big disappointment of the Japanese football season. The goal of qualifying for the Asian Champions League can hardly be achieved. Kobe would have to finish third, but five rounds from the end of the season in Japan after the calendar year, the team are in 11th place. Despite the nominally strong offensive, the team scores only 1.2 goals per match on average, the goal ratio is negative.

The transfer of Andrés Iniesta hasn’t changed that much so far. Since the 34-year-old, who was the creative force behind FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team for many years, joined the squad two months ago, the team has fallen another five places in the table. Iniesta is currently injured, and he cannot yet be labelled a bad buy. But expectations are not only high, they are also marked by nervousness. Since the mid-1990s, when Michael Laudrup and the current head of FC Zurich sports, Thomas Bickel, were under contract in Kobe, Podolski and Iniesta have been the first really well-known foreigners. Nowhere is the interweaving of sport and advertising more obvious than at Vissel Kobe. The company Rakuten dominates the Japanese and parts of the Asian market, but wants to catch up with the top dog Amazon worldwide as quickly as possible.

Rakuten also sponsors the Tohoku Eagles, a baseball team from north-eastern Sendai that won the Japanese championship a few years ago. For a good year now, Rakuten’s lettering has also been emblazoned on FC Barcelona’s jersey. But the most important pillar in the marketing concept is Vissel Kobe. Rakuten founder Hiroshi Mikitani is expected to spend around 30 million euros a year on his two stars Podolski and Iniesta alone.

FC Zurich

Opening up new advertising markets

The world champions help to make Rakuten, whose lettering is also emblazoned on the Vissel jerseys, known throughout Europe. For other important sales markets, public favourites from the respective countries are responsible. Two years ago, for example, Kim Seung Gyu, the national goalkeeper of the 50 million nation of South Korea, was hired. With defender Theeraton Bunmathan, Kobe also has a national player and star from Thailand, where 70 million potential customers live. With the Qatari national player Ahmed Yasser, who also has fans in Egypt due to the origin of his parents, there is even a representative of the Middle East in the squad. These two countries have a combined population of around 100 million.

And at least as far as the degree of popularity of Rakuten is concerned, the concept is not a failure so far. Vissel Kobe is present on several continents through its stars, and if Podolski and Iniesta succeed in making good moves, they spread like wildfire on the Internet. In the hometown of Kobe, the club, and thus its financier, is omnipresent anyway. The faces of the stars smile at every street corner.

Four weeks ago, however, it became clear that this was not enough for Rakuten. The club leadership then dismissed the coach and presented the successor before he could even get a work visa for Japan. Juan Manuel Lillo, often praised by Josep Guardiola, is to establish the Tiki-Taka style in Japan, with which Spain dominated world football for years. Betreels is a nice bright clean looking casino with excellent graphics.

Spanish coach Lillo, who is already in the coach’s seat even though he is not yet the official boss, is likely to lack the players. Passes are often half a meter too inaccurate, and the pace is lost in ball control. Lukas Podolski didn’t want to go into detail about the style of play: “Everyone has seen how we play at the moment,” he grumbled. It hasn’t looked good for weeks.