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Dany Ryser: "It Was No Miracle Year"

After 18 years at the Swiss Football Association, Dany Ryser is retiring. The U17 world champion coach talks about child prodigies, selfishness, and the historic title win.

With Xhaka, Rodriguez, Seferovic, and Kasami, four U17 world champions are current members of the Swiss senior national team. You can retire with pride.

Dany Ryser: That is not what makes me proud; after all, they have carved their own paths. It's more like satisfaction. However, I think just as often about all the players who didn't make it. I'm still in touch with some of them.

Are you surprised that these four in particular made it?

No, since they were all in our Footuro program for potential senior national team players. I would also include Ben Khalifa and Drmic. The latter would have been in the World Cup squad too, if he had received citizenship in time. The only real surprise is that so many have come so far – considering that 1992 was no miracle year.

Excuse me?

When I took over the age group with birth year 1992, my fellow coaches told me prior to the World Cup qualification: "Dany, you have your work cut out for you. It's not a great group." And then when the World Cup started, an expert panel rated us the second-weakest team.

How was this sensational surprise possible?

We grew together, focused only on the next match, and always played to win. In the third match against Brazil, I knew that a victory would pit us against the tournament favorite, Germany, in the round of sixteen; a defeat would pit us against New Zealand, an apparently lesser hurdle. I opted for Germany because I wanted to make the most of the momentum. The risk paid off.

How important was the title for the further development of the players?

It had a profound impact on them. In sports, you not only need talent, you also need positive experiences such as this title. It enabled the players to realize that they could go very far in football. When Ottmar Hitzfeld drafted some of the U17 world champions into the senior national team, he noted: "These players walk onto the field with the firm conviction that they can beat any opponent."

The football business has changed considerably; I assume this is true for the players as well.

In the old days, you gave orders; today, you have to explain. Players want to know why they have to do something. You have to get them to set their own goals.

Do players now listen more to their consultants than to the coach?

Of course, the influence of player consultants has increased dramatically. We coaches have to show the young ones what their position really is and what the interests are of those constantly praising them to the skies. If a consultant becomes too powerful, I tell the player so.

Do players need consultants nowadays?

Football is increasingly about fast money rather than long-term success. This also applies to certain sports directors and club presidents. In such moments, having a good consultant is a plus. Unfortunately, they are few and far between.

As in the economy, the competition for the best talent is becoming harder and harder.

Absolutely. There used to be just a handful of scouts standing at the edge of the field; nowadays it's 50 or more. This could be taken as a compliment to our training work, but I could still do without it.

Why?

When 14-year-old kids are contacted by scouts from Manchester United or Chelsea, they are often completely overwhelmed. As are their parents. This leads to mistakes that prevent successful careers.

What advice would you give to these players?

Stay here! We have one of the world's best training programs. Make the most of it and play another one or two seasons in the Super League. Then it'll be time to go abroad.

Nevertheless, there are examples to the contrary. Players like Pajtim Kasami, who wandered all across Europe at age 16 and still managed to be successful.

Pajtim is a very unique guy. At the time, I didn't even try to talk him out of going abroad. It would have been pointless. I did, however, sit down and talk with him for two hours. I told him: "Pajtim, you can help us and we can help you." I also made my expectations very clear, should he stay with us. I then invited him to the first training camp and sensed that he was going along with it. His development is extraordinary and he has not yet reached his full potential. Usually, though, such careers go wrong.

Are there child prodigies?

That expression is now over-used; it is mostly the players with high skill levels who are praised to the skies. On the way to the top, however, other factors also count, such as the motivation to perform, the handling of pressure, and the management of stress. I consider it absolutely impossible to assess the career prospects of a 13-year-old. It's irresponsible. We also shouldn't focus on the offensive players. Jogi Löw recently said to me: "We have a problem, because we train too many midfielders and strikers and forget the rest."

Do you mean players such as left-back Ricardo Rodriguez, who was not in the spotlight in 2009, but is now the most successful of the U17 world champions?

Yes. There was, however, no justification to his not being in the spotlight. He played an excellent tournament and held his own against opponents like Neymar. Nonetheless, it is true that Ricardo is not a magician; he simply always does what he does best.

The role model for many young players is David Beckham. You need a conspicuous haircut, tattoos, and a model girlfriend. Does this star culture bother you?

Football is a reflection of society and, as it happens, the focus is on the individual nowadays. I simply try to make everyone understand: "You will never have a great career on your own. You will always need a team." Each player should also be aware that the team reacts brutally to egotism. Our Swiss teams will only ever be successful through united team performance. We are too small to handle eleven larger-than-life individualists at the same time.

The most important thing a talent needs is...

Football potential, passion, and a lot of game practice. If you're sitting on the sideline, you're stagnating. Which brings us back to the right career planning...

Do you suffer when the careers of former protégés go downhill?

Suffering would be exaggerated. I regret it. However, there are often good reasons for it. For instance, a player who believes he no longer needs to work on himself as soon as he signs his first professional contract. A successful career is very difficult without family support. Some don't get enough support, while others get too much.

You yourself had to make tough decisions and announce them to the young players.

Those moments are not the most pleasant parts of this job. In the end, though, we are training the very best, and the selection process is ruthless. I was always open and honest with each player. With me, everybody knew exactly where they stood. I have also always tried to make sure that those who were winnowed out were not stranded, but had some kind of prospects.

How did the World Cup title change your life?

Without the title, I would never have traveled around the world to discuss the promotion of young talent. I would never have appeared before industry representatives to report on coaching and team-building. I have, however, always tried to stay true to myself. If I go to an event, you won't see me with a glass of champagne in the newspapers the next day.

Were there job offers you seriously considered?

After the World Cup title, I received many offers from abroad for positions as national coach, U21 coach, or technical director. However, I have very strong roots here and the Swiss Football Association also showed its appreciation, which is why I stayed.

You later also received offers from the Super League.

Yes, and from a sports perspective, the professional league would have interested me. However, I have a hard time dealing with the whole circus. I consider appreciation and respect to be important. Things that have gone out of fashion when dealing with coaches...

...but are compensated for in coaches' salaries.

In that case, I'm happy to forgo the extra money.

Where do you still see room for improvement in the very successful Swiss Football Association promotion of young talent?

There is no need for a revolution, but we must continuously develop. Last summer, we established the Footeco project for 12- and 13-year-olds. The next step will be modernizing the Footuro program. We must intensify collaboration with the clubs; we need talent managers in order to support top players more closely. These are the things the new team under Laurent Prince and Heinz Moser is working on.

Is there a new age group in sight that we can look forward to?

The 2000 group looks promising. But we have talent in every age group. Our goal always remains the same: For each year's group, we want to bring one to two players into the senior national team.

Will you remain the only Swiss World Champion coach for all time?

I think more titles are entirely possible. All the pieces just have to come together. Why not even the senior national team?