Illustration by Federico Manasse
Switzerland have never been an imposing football power. When the big tournaments have rolled around, Switzerland have proven themselves somewhat proficient, qualifying for their fair share, but never have they come close to winning either the World Cup or European Championships despite featuring in 11 major tournaments over the years.
Certain names come to mind any time Swiss football should become the topic of conversation; greats such as Alexander Frei and Ciriaco Sforza, and even modern-day stars in the mold of Xherdan Shaqiri, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Granit Xhaka, but perhaps no other footballer in the history of the nation can boast an impact equal to that of Stéphane Chapuisat.
A proud countryman, Chapuisat recorded a truly remarkable 103 international caps between 1989 and 2004 placing him only marginally behind Alain Geiger and Heinz Hermann on the list of his nation’s top servants. Simply put, he prioritised the need to turn out for his country when others did not and paved the way for a great many rising stars.
Playing a pivotal role in Switzerland’s charge to the last 16 of the 1994 World Cup in the United States, Chapuisat was present from the get-go during qualification, featuring in nine matches before his country reached the group stage and beyond. Although they had made the quarter-final stage long before – in 1934, ‘38 and ‘54, the country’s best-ever finishes – their appearance Stateside was the country’s first since the 1966 World Cup; a long-standing unwanted run that Chapuisat’s six goals in qualifying helped bring to an end.
Rarely one for hogging the limelight, Chapuisat worked fervently for the team all over the park, and while many will point out that he only netted a solitary World Cup goal, in a 4-1 group-stage victory over Romania, what deserves fair remembrance, more than his ratios, was his consistent work-rate, the graft that he put into helping them reach the big stages, and his continued availability. Despite becoming a bit-part player under new management at the turn of the millennium, Chapuisat was always prepared to answer his country’s call, even if it meant remaining on the bench should his starting berth have required sacrifice.
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Scoring 21 goals throughout his international career, his record may falter when compared to former strike partner Alexander Frei, but he was able to claim the honour of Swiss Player of the Year on five separate occasions, such was his selfless input. Furthermore, although Chapuisat may have been a striker, his contribution was never limited solely to scoring goals. He also performed admirably to raise the profile of the Swiss game, an endeavour he certainly achieved in part due to his heroics while wearing the famous red shirt of his home nation and thanks to his frankly astonishing achievements while on club duty.
With Borussia Dortmund, Chapuisat netted 106 times in almost 230 top-flight appearances – making him the highest-scoring Swiss player in the history of the German Bundesliga – and is one of only six foreign players to break the 100-goal mark in the league.
Undoubtedly the stand-out period of his career was from 1994 to 1997 when he claimed six titles, including two league crowns and a Champions League trophy; fitting spoils to end the remarkable spell during which time Die Schwarzgelben were at the peak of their powers.
Ending Bundesliga seasons as top scorer twice, he was the finest Swiss footballer playing in Europe throughout a period of no fewer than five consecutive seasons and his trademark left foot helped to cement his name in football folklore during those years.
Far from the paciest of players, Chapuisat was an exceptional dribbler of the ball on his day and could bob and weave through defences at will, but it is the sight of him swinging his left boot at an incoming cross from deep, approaching a through-ball into the 18-yard box with intent or pouncing upon a stray pass at the back post that truly defines his memory best.
To reduce him to the definition of a poacher would be unfair to his traits of leadership and longevity and his desire to give his all to the cause. Even so, Chapuisat was one of the greatest goalscorers Switzerland ever produced and if a player with even a fraction of his commitment should represent La Rossocrociati in the near future, we will all be lucky to witness it