Ten months ago, a coach named Dany Ryser led an unfancied Swiss Under 17 side to World Cup glory in what was, incredibly, the nation’s first ever appearance in the competition.
It may have been an unlikely victory but it wasn’t a fluke. There is a rich vein of talent starting to be unearthed in the country, with talented Swiss teenagers beginning to appear in the youth systems of many of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist is at Aston Villa while Man City picked up defender Frederic Veseli. The star of the World Cup campaign and Silver Ball winner Nassim Ben Khalifa was snapped up by Bundesliga club VFL Wolfsburg. Seferovic, the man who scored the goal in the final against the hosts Nigeria, is now playing his football at Fiorentina and midfielder Pajtim Kasami has had spells at Lazio and Liverpool already before finding himself at Palermo this season.
And as you’d expect of a club that prides itself on the ability to give youth a chance, Arsenal themselves have no less than three starlets from central Europe hoping to be a part of Switzerland’s exciting future – Martin Angha, Elton Monteiro and Sead Hajrovic. This article, the first of three looking at Arsenal’s Swiss trio, will focus on Sead Hajrovic.
Date of birth: 04/06/1993
Height: 181cm (5’11)
Former Club: Grasshopper Zurich
Position: Centre Back, Right Back
The only one of the three signings to have been a part of the U17 World Cup winning side in Nigeria, Hajrovic was the first of the Swiss starlets to arrive at Arsenal. Stocky and powerful, the fact he was over 6 months younger than any of the Swiss U17 side speaks volumes about just how highly rated the defender is in his home country.
Hajrovic, of Bosnian descent, appeared in six of his side’s 7 games at the tournament, only missing the quarter-final through suspension after the starlet was dismissed in an extra-time win over Germany.
He was first noticed by the Gunners in 2006 and the English side continued to keep tabs on him as he progressed through the ranks at Grasshopper, with even chief scout Steve Rowley choosing to watch him on occasion before finally sealing the transfer last year shortly after his 16th birthday.
Up until that point Hajrovic had followed the path of his older brother Izet, starting to play football at local club FC Birr before moving to FC Windisch. Then Izet was spotted by Grasshopper and Sead found himself without a club before he tried out for the Zurich-based club in an effort to play alongside Izet once again. He was quickly accepted and never looked back.
Talking about his big move to Arsenal, Hajrovic cited Johan Djourou and Phillippe Senderos as the inspiration behind his move to England at such a young age.
“With me there was an ambition to go after something better, something more difficult. Then the contact with Arsenal intensified and I looked at players like Djourou and Senderos who dared [to move abroad] and now I’ve done the same.
If I could play in the first team at a club like Arsenal one of my biggest dreams would be fulfilled. I give 100% every day so that I can achieve these goals.
A year on, Hajrovic is yet to feature for the Under 18s this term having picked up an injury in his debut season, where he struggled at times but made 14 appearances as Steve Bould’s side went on to win the Academy League once again. He also broke in to the reserve side on 3 occasions, something he’ll be looking to build upon when he returns to action.
Described as an aggressive tackler, Hajrovic sees his future as a centre back but insists he can play elsewhere, having played in midfield for his national side and been used as a right back for the Gunners several times.
I feel most comfortable in central defence. But there are also other positions that I like. For example, the coach at the World Cup played me in midfield, because I had a good game overview. But central defender is already the best position for me.
He says that he models his game on Chelsea captain John Terry, although he’s quick to deny being a fan of the Blues after his move to their London rivals. Predictably he instead states that Barcelona are his favourite club, a poster of the Spanish giants taking pride of place on his wall.
But there is a rather less predictable side to this talented teenager. Called up to the Swiss Under 17 side ahead of the European Championships last year, Hajrovic instead decided to remain at home in order to concentrate on his school exams, saying that being successful at school was “important” and confidently claiming that “a chance in a major tournament would probably come again”.
Less than a year later he was a world champion.