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Ambitious FC Sion President Divides Swiss Opinion

It has been said that FC Sion owner Christian Constantin is the president every coach would hope not to work for. Since the architect from Martigny – a French speaking city in the canton of Valais in Switzerland – bought the club in 2003, he has quickly become the most outspoken president in Swiss football. Constantin is never afraid to speak his mind about his side’s performance or criticise managerial decisions. And the sacking of managers has happened with alarming regularity on his watch, with Sion having gone through 22 coaches during his reign.

Constantin’s self-belief is even bigger than his ambition to make Sion a Swiss giant. Twice the president has appointed himself as the club’s coach after sacking his manager. In October 2008, Constantin dispensed with the services of German coach Uli Stielike and stood in himself as boss. “I let him do his job for 150 days”, said Constantin, “but I [didn’t] see any result. Sion have 3,000 supporters, less than in the previous season. It was necessary to cut in, and that’s what I did. Stielike refused to collaborate, so I had no choice.” However, in April 2009, Sion’s president repeated the trick, sitting on the bench once again for a whole month.

On 28th May, 2010, former FC Zurich coach Bernard Challandes – who won the Swiss Super League title in 2009 – signed on at Sion. The situation Challandes inherited was not an easy one, due to the club operating under a transfer ban imposed for having signed Egyptian international Essam El-Hadary. The goalkeeper was under contract with his former club Al-Ahly, and the Egyptian giants had not released the player for negotiations at the Stade Tourbillon. However, the ban was temporarily lifted just before the 2010/11 campaign got under way, due to Sion’s ongoing appeal.


It was not the first time Constantin’s lawyers have pulled his chestnuts out of the fire. In 2003, Sion were denied their professional license due to financial problems. Constantin, Sion’s new owner at the time, having taken over from president Gilbert Kadji during the summer, refused to play in the Prima Lega – the Swiss third division – and attacked the National League. In October of the same year, a canton judge reinstated the club, ruling that they should play in the Challenge League, Switzerland’s second tier. The Challenge League was already over three months old at the time, therefore Sion had to make up a backlog of matches by playing twice a week.

Back in the present day, and after the El-Hadary saga, Sion swooped to sign former Ajax right back George Ogararu, Dutch centre back Michael Dingsdag (from Heerenveen) and defensive midfielder Rodrigo Lacerda (from Strasbourg). The Sion supremo then revealed his targets for the forthcoming season. “My expectations?” said Constantin. “I think Sion can at least challenge for the European places.”

Since the start of the campaign Sion have struggled for consistency though, despite a good start.”Will Challandes be Constantin’s umpteenth sacrificial lamb?” wondered French language newspaper 24 Heures after the president had declared: “If I had to currently sack the people I am not satisfied about, I’d be alone.” At the time of writing however, Challandes is still in the hottest of hot seats. And this despite a very public humiliation the 59-year-old suffered in Round 8 of the Swiss Cup

Towards the end of November, Sion faced Challenge League outfit Lugano at the Cornaredo Stadium. Ogararu put his side ahead after a few minutes, but a late goal from Lugano striker Afonso took the tie into extra time. Before the first period of extra time could get under way however, an angry Constantin stepped onto the pitch, told Challandes to keep quiet, and began to give instructions to the players. Sion won the match 3-2. A deeply embarrassed Challandes sought to play down the incident post-match, stating: “Everybody knows the president. He has charisma and he always tries to motivate the team. I admit this is not the ideal situation for a coach to work in. However, we have to accept it.”

Under Constantin – a former goalkeeper, the president was Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld’s team-mate at Lugano in the 1979/80 season – Sion have won the Swiss Cup twice. In 2006, through defeating Young Boys on penalties in the final, and by so doing becoming the first team from the country’s second tier to lift the trophy, Sion stood triumphant. Stade Tourbillon academy product Gelson Fernandes, who was sold to Manchester City a year later for €6M  – the highest amount received by the Swiss club – was a key player in the victory.

In 2009, Sion won the Swiss Cup for the second time in Constantin’s reign, again beating Young Boys. The victory continued Sion’s impressive record of winning every Swiss Cup final they have contested – the club have won 11 in total. At the time Sion’s coach was Didier Tholot, who had managed the Canton Valais side for 13 months – almost a record for a Sion coach.

The Swiss press have often been harsh in their judgements of Constantin, dubbing the Sion president, amongst other things, “self-centred”, “red-blooded”, “disrespectful”, “volcanic” and “arrogant”. Sion’s players though have a somewhat different opinion of the man who saved their club from the abyss and is passionate about it succeeding.

“He put a lot of money into the club”, said Sion striker Saidu Adeshina, “and he wants to see some results. Many players have good relationships with him. Me too. I think he only needs to understand that in football it is impossible to always win. We must also consider that there are opponents [who also want to win].” A simple idea indeed, and one that still needs to be appreciated at the Stade Tourbillon.



Published: Monday, 13th Dec 2010