Swiss Nationalliga A 1988-89

Paul Joyce looks back at Lucerne's Nationalliga A triumph, their sole league title to date

The long-term significance
In 1987, the Nationalliga A was reduced from 16 to 12 clubs and the season was split into two parts. After a pre-Christmas “qualifying round”, points were halved and carried forward into a “final round” contested by the top eight clubs. As their budgets increased, Swiss clubs were able to attract young overseas talent and also ageing stars, such as Marco Tardelli, who looked forward to playing the “stress-free football” that Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was enjoying at Servette. By 1989, 46 per cent of players in the NLA were foreigners. These changes made the league harder to predict. Neuchâtel Xamax won their only two championships in 1987 and 1988, and FC Lucerne’s sole league title followed in 1989.

Story of the season
Best known until then for trying to sign Johan Cruyff in the early 1980s but ending up with David Fairclough, Lucerne had only narrowly avoided the relegation round in 1988. With no money to buy overseas stars, German coach Friedel Rausch added striker Peter Nadig from FC Basel and built a solid defence around Swiss international Stefan Marini. Pre-season pessimism abounded: Rausch threatened to leave for the Bundesliga and libero Roger Wehrli had “no good feelings about this season at all”.

Yet Lucerne won the qualifying phase ahead of Grasshoppers Zürich, but the halving of points before the final round meant that only three points now separated them from eighth-placed Servette. Although Sion and reigning champions Xamax drew level with Lucerne after three games in the final phase, 1-0 victories against title rivals Grasshoppers and away in Neuchâtel meant that a draw at home to Servette in the penultimate game of the season would give Lucerne their first title. With 24,000 fans packing the Allmend stadium, German midfielder Jürgen Mohr scored the only goal of the game and Hansi Burri ran the length of the pitch to present the trophy to the crowd.

Former Lucerne midfielder Ottmar Hitzfeld was also making a name for himself as a manager. He coached Grasshoppers to second place in the league and a 2-1 victory in the Swiss Cup final over FC Aarau – the team he left to join the Hoppers in 1988. FC Wettingen achieved their highest ever league position and qualified for the UEFA Cup. But despite holding Diego Maradona’s Napoli to a goalless draw in October 1989, Wettingen would be insolvent within four years with debts of CHF 3.2 million (£1.4m).

No one was relegated this season, as the four teams who finished bottom of the qualification round all topped their relegation groups. This meant that FC Basel and FC Zürich, who had dominated Swiss football in the 1970s, spent another year in the second division.

For the record books
On June 21, 1989, Lausanne’s Stéphane Chapuisat gained the first of 103 international caps in a 1-0 friendly win over Brazil. Strengthened by players with a migrant background, such as prolific striker Kubilay Turkyilmaz, a new generation was emerging that would take Switzerland to the World Cup finals in 1994 for the first time in 28 years.

Same place today
The NLA adopted a simpler ten-team format in 2003. Seven of the 12 clubs from this season are currently in this rebranded
“Super League”, but only Grasshoppers and FC Aarau have not been relegated at least once since 1989.

Moved furthest away
After going bankrupt in 1993, the refounded FC Wettingen 93 are currently in the fifth tier of the Swiss pyramid. Bellinzona, Servette, Lausanne and Lugano all slid into the amateur ranks after financial crises. The last three now play in the 16-team second division, known as the “Challenge League”.

Went on to greater things
Ottmar Hitzfeld ~ Having coached Grasshoppers to the Swiss championship in 1990 and 1991, Hitzfeld won the Champions League with both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.Ivan Zamorano ~ The Chilean striker scored 34 goals in two seasons for FC St Gallen and went on to play for Sevilla, Real Madrid and Inter.Anders Limpar ~ After only one season with Young Boys Bern, the Swedish winger (right) moved to US Cremonese for 24 appearances before winning the League with Arsenal in 1991.

Disappearing from view
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge ~ The 1980 and 1981 European Footballer of the Year hung up his boots in 1989 after two years with Servette FC. He was top scorer in the Nationalliga this season with 24 goals.Giancarlo Antognoni ~ The 1982 World Cup-winning midfielder (right) retired after 341 appearances for Fiorentina and two years at Lausanne Sports.AC Bellinzona ~ The team from Ticino were relegated in 1990 and only regained top-flight status in 2008. From 2002-08, the top division had no Italian-speaking clubs.

From WSC 272 October 2009