With a historic campaign in Switzerland under his belt, and confidence which defies his age, the 21-year-old could be the bargain of 2014
By Joe Wright
Borussia Dortmund general manager Michael Zorc reacted with contempt to rumours last week that a deal had been agreed to sell Mats Hummels to Barcelona for €35 million. “It’s absolute nonsense,” he said, branding the report “a complete non-story”. Given that Fabian Schar was touted as Hummels’ replacement, perhaps he should not have been so dismissive.
Dortmund need few reminders of Schar’s quality, in truth – especially since he scored against them just months ago in pre-season. At just 21 years old, Schar has become one of the hottest properties in European football, with Arsenal, Napoli, AC Milan, Manchester United and Juventus all linked with the player in the past year, underlining the reputation he has forged in an alarmingly short space of time.
This attention is by no means unjustified; Schar is no flash-in-the-pan talent. Having spent his youth career with hometown club FC Wil up until the summer of 2012, Schar demonstrated composure and maturity in the side from the moment he made his debut at just 17 – not to mention an astounding level of confidence, as demonstrated by his outrageous 60-yard goal against FC Aarau (his second of the match) which sealed a 3-2 win in May 2011. “There is a lot of talk [of a move],” he told Basler Zeitung earlier this autumn. “But I pay no heed to it.”
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His form in the Swiss Challenge League was enough to alert then-Basel coach Heiko Vogel, who promptly snapped him up in the summer. But it was under Murat Yakin – who took charge last October – that he really began to flourish. Schar made 21 appearances in the Super League as Basel secured their 16th domestic title, while he also played 13 times in their historic Europa League campaign as they reached a continental semi-final for the first time in history.
“He’s a great lad for his age, he’s already come surprisingly far,” Basel legend Alexander Frei told Bild earlier this week. “Having said that, he still has room for improvement. He’s a very intelligent strategist who has developed enormously quickly.”
Schar spent the majority of last season partnered with Aleksandar Dragovic – himself a world-class centre-back in the making – and often played in the Austrian’s shadow. But there were glimpses of his true potential shining through, not least in the Europa League wins over Zenit St Petersburg and Tottenham (as well as the semi-final with Chelsea, when he showed great composure to convert a late penalty in the home leg). Since Dragovic’s €7m move to Dynamo Kiev in the summer, Schar has very much become the main man in the Basel backline.
Predominantly right-footed, Schar is adept enough with either foot to leave him comfortable when in possession of the ball, while his aerial ability – in either penalty area – is unsurpassed in the Super League. And although he is not the quickest across the ground, his awareness of the game is already strong enough to allow him to intercept the play more than he needs to chase it – a sure sign of a top-drawer stopper in the making.
At international level, he has scored a stunning three goals in three appearances for Switzerland since making his debut in the friendly win over Brazil in August, but his career for the youth ranks has been checkered at best. Schar has earned just five caps for the Under-21 side, missing the victorious U-17 World Cup campaign in 2009 completely, and was sent off against Germany in a Euro 2013 play-off.
But confidence has been key in recent months. Schar has become the player around which Murat Yakin builds his defence in the absence of Dragovic, while Switzerland boss Ottmar Hitzfeld admits it is becoming increasingly difficult to leave him out of the starting XI, with Johan Djourou having battled him for a starting spot alongside Steve von Bergen in the past year.
“Fabian is a little sensitive, he must have the full confidence of his coach,” Alex Frei admitted this week. “Then he will bring his top performance.”
But this should not deter his growing list of suitors. Schar has helped Basel to strong starts in both their title defence and Champions League campaign, and will almost certainly travel to Brazil next summer. Rumours in Germany may have quietened down, but should Dortmund move for his signature – be it in January or next summer – then they might just end up with the finest “nonsense” transfer of the season.
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