League reconstruction: the Swiss view of Scottish plans

Scottish football clubs are pressing ahead with plans to restructure the country's league system, with the prospect of two top leagues of 12 splitting into three leagues of eight midway through the season being given serious consideration.

It is a system that was used for 15 years in Switzerland, between 1988 and 2003.

BBC Scotland has been speaking to several people with experience of the Swiss model to find out how it might work in Scotland.

Edmond Izoz, Senior manager, Swiss Football League

It was a success at the beginning. It was at the same time where a lot of football clubs in Switzerland decided to be professional because until the mid-eighties we had half of the clubs who were not professional.

Edmond Izoz

Izoz believes having a smaller league has improved football in Switzerland

But with Bosman, we saw there was a big change in the game. We saw that the financial pressure with this type of competition was too difficult and put a lot of clubs into financial difficulties.

From the 10th game the pressure began [to be involved in the top eight] and this pressure made the clubs really careless - signing players, changing the coach and taking financial risks. Apart from the two or three big clubs, it was not sustainable.

Several people wanted us to go to a league of 16, but I fought really hard to persuade the people and time has proved us right. With the smaller leagues, it's harder to get a place but the quality of the coach, of the people in the clubs, of the youth development, all things are better, so we have a better championship.

If you make the championship bigger, the quality goes down - that's nothing against the smaller teams, it's the reality. So the first point was the sporting quality and when you have a good sporting quality you have more spectators and more sponsors.

Switzerland's world ranking 1993-2002
  • Switzerland had a top flight of 16 until 1988
  • A 12-12 league system was adopted, with the two divisions split into three leagues of eight after 22 fixtures
  • Fourteen years after reconstruction, the national team's ranking was 65
  • A move to a 10-team top tier with 12 sides in the division below came into force in 2003
  • Switzerland's ranking has subsequently risen to 13
  • The national team has reached the finals of the last two World Cups

We've had better results in European competition but that's not only because of the league structure. We've worked well with the youths, we introduced a squad limit like European competition, we made more space for young Swiss players.

There are fewer clubs who are really interesting. From a technical point of view, for the development and the quality, you need fewer clubs to have good players, that's really important.

We really have a vision for the good of Swiss football and not for the good of every club because obviously what's good for everyone is not what's good for the individual. That was a really big choice by us.

The youth teams of the big teams are playing in the Third Division because one problem with the development is how do you introduce young players into the first team?

We've had several discussions [with people from Scottish football] and I've tried to explain what the advantages and disadvantages were, the results we took from the period with 12 clubs and after that with 10 but every country's free to decide.

I'm sure Scottish players are as good as Swiss players but the young have to be really well trained and have a fair chance to play in a good team and too many teams is not good because in small countries we need to concentrate on fewer teams.

Stefan Freiburghaus, Sporting director, FC Biel (Second Division)

There was a very tough relegation battle for the last four teams in the First Division because they struggled for 22 games to be above the line and the quality of the football was very much a fighting quality, not a good quality in football tactically. Very defensive. During the three or four last rounds it was very interesting to follow the eighth, ninth, tenth place and not the top teams. That was a little bit crazy I think.

The clubs - mostly the smaller clubs - were against [the move away from 12-12] because they lost their place in the Second Division. In reality, in these eight teams competing for promotion there were two teams prepared to go up. So the others were happy not being in the relegation round [bottom eight] but their financial structure and quality on the pitch meant they weren't prepared to go up.

I wouldn't propose this [Scotland bringing in 12-12] because I think it's not logical that the matches between eighth and ninth are more interesting than first against second. Now we have a competition that is interesting from first to tenth. So, in my opinion it's not worth discussing.

Ramon Vega, Grasshoppers Zurich 1990-96

I think it was a very good success. Switzerland is a very small country and I think you need to make it as competitive as you can. I think that was quite a successful way of structuring.

Ramon Vega playing for Celtic

Swiss international Vega started his playing career in his homeland and also featured for Celtic

The Scottish league does need to be more attractive so I think it's good they're having thoughts about how to do that. I only had a good experience with the 12-team league with eight qualifying to play for the championship so potentially I'd advise them to look into that.

I have good memories obviously because Grasshoppers had a very successful period at that time, winning the league three or four times, but one year we were in the bottom four and had to compete to stay up.

When I was in Scotland, to be playing against Rangers four times was very exciting always to be playing in a derby, but year in, year out you potentially start to get bored by this. If there was a solution, which I think would be very difficult, it would be more attractive from a supporter's point of view and would make the league more interesting.

Marc Widmer, supporter

In the first part of the season, it was a hard fight to see who would be in the upper league and who would be in the lower league. And also for teams in the Second Division, it was a fight to see who would be in the upper league and who would stay in the bottom league. Two fights - not only one for the championship, but also to see which league you go to after six months.

I don't think fans are ignored because several newspapers are really interested in what people think and the board of the national federation are also interested in what the public thinks. But when they changed the system, several newspapers said this is not really good because it isn't interesting until the last round [of matches] but now we know it can be interesting.

Fredy Bickel, Sporting director Young Boys (First Division)

The memories [of the old system] are not so good. For the new system now, I think it was the best way for Swiss football.

Young Boys Bern

Young Boys were in this season's Europa League

The level, the quality of football in Switzerland now, for me, for sure is higher. Before with all these small clubs in the league you don't have the same level.

It was a fight to keep the old system yes [by smaller clubs] but how many clubs do you have in Switzerland who can really play in the First Division? Probably not a lot more than 12 and now the 10 best clubs are in the first league. If you have 14 or 16 clubs thinking they can play in the first league it's only good for those clubs but not for the league.

I can understand this point [fans want bigger league] but it can also be interesting playing four times against the same club. You probably have four derbies, you can play four times against the best clubs.

Two leagues with 10 clubs is really better for the quality of football and everyone is looking for better quality football. I can show you the results from Swiss clubs. We don't have big results but in five years we are in the Champions League four times. In the Europa League, every year we've had at least one team. For Swiss football, these are good results for a small country.

Matthias Huppi, Swiss television presenter

There were advantages and disadvantages. They intended to make the whole thing a little bit more interesting for the public. I think in the first period, television was interested because it was new. But at the end, the difference between the teams in the 'championship' league and the teams from the second division was too big, so it wasn't interesting at all.

There were economic reasons [for moving away from 12-12] because it wasn't as interesting as they initially thought it would be. So there were a few teams earning a lot of money, having a lot of spectators and [for other clubs] nothing in the stadium.

There are always people against something and even the smaller clubs, they weren't so happy with only 10 teams in the Second Division but the decision was taken by a vote of the federation and it was fixed. If you have 10 teams you can imagine it would be more interesting than if the first team plays against the 14th or 16th in the league.

It's always worth trying something new. As far as I know the difference between the top teams in Scotland and the last spots is pretty big, so I think they have to try something new.