Former Swiss international Ramon Vega spoke World football about the World Cup, FIFA and his ambitions to become its president.
What do you think of Switzerland’s campaign in Qatar?
Considering the performance of the team at Euro 2020 and the fact that we qualified for the World Cup ahead of the reigning European champions in Italy, I was convinced that they could even reach the semi-finals.
Brazil had to work very hard to beat us and they needed a wonderful goal for that. Performances in victories over Cameroon and Serbia were good. We finished behind Brazil only on goal difference. Going into the round of 16 against Portugal, I was confident that I would beat them and advance to the last stages.
What went wrong in the match against Portugal?
It was embarrassing, humiliating. It was in the knockout stages of the world cup. For some players, this would be their last game, so you could expect them to give it their all. However, I did not see any fight. There was no aggression. It looked like they were already on the plane home! I’ve never seen Switzerland play like this before.
We have players who play at a high level in big clubs. Portugal should not intimidate or frighten them. But being hit like that is shocking. Losing that many points on the biggest stage of all will leave mental scars.
Will Murat Yakin survive as manager?
Hiring a new person will be a knee-jerk move. I know Murat well. I played with him in Grasshoppers and in the national team. No doubt he will suffer and question his tactics.
I think he’ll get a second chance. He has enough goodwill for the team that qualified first for Qatar. He will have a chance to lead Switzerland to Euro (2024 in Germany), but if early qualifying results are poor, he will be under pressure.
This was Xherdan Shaqiri’s fourth World Cup and probably his last. He has made 112 appearances and is Switzerland’s second top scorer at the World Cup. How would you sum up his contribution to the national team?
At club level, he was on the bench or second choice, but that was not the case for his country. He did very well and contributed to the success of the Swiss team.
It would be sad if the match against Portugal was his last. Would he want to leave because of this result? If he retires, it will be a loss. He is only 31, so in two years he may still be available for the Euros. His experience in big tournaments will be crucial for some young players.
Which players impressed you the most?
Kylian Mbappe. I look at him from a defender’s point of view. I played against Brazil’s Ronaldo and (Gabriel) Batistuta, but I’m glad I’m not playing against Mbappe! There doesn’t seem to be any weakness in his game. It has the full package.
Apart from him, (Cody) Gakpo has caught the attention of the Netherlands and (Goncalo) Ramos is a potential future superstar. But Mbappe was special.
Which team had a disappointing tournament?
Germany. Overall, German football is suffering. Bayern Munich is so dominant and wins the league every year. What competition do they have? Bayern players are a big part of the squad and I think the lack of competition in the Bundesliga has an impact on the national team. They look like a shadow of the German teams I faced.
Your ambition to become FIFA president is well documented. Have your previous experiences discouraged you from showing up again?
FIFA is a closed shop. I’m an outsider and I’m against the cartel. I spent my own money traveling the world talking to associations that want change. They are not satisfied with the current system, but they are afraid to speak out loud. They are afraid that the money promised to them will be withheld.
However, my ambition remains the same that in four years I will return to my hometown of Zurich as FIFA president and closer to the time when I will be speaking to you again.
FIFA was heavily criticized for awarding the World Cup to Qatar. What do you think about their hosting?
I have been coming to the Middle East for a long time and the hospitality in this part of the world is indisputable, as is their finances to support their ambitions. Saudi Arabia now wants to host the World Cup and it goes without saying that when you travel to another country you respect its culture.
FIFA will now be more open to organizing future tournaments in smaller countries, which will ease the logistics for players and fans as they will not have to endure longer journeys between cities as was the case in Russia.
But let’s look at the issue of migrant workers. Qatar had to build practically everything from scratch, and FIFA should have realized that a small army was needed to build stadiums, hotels and fan zones.
There is nothing wrong with people from developing countries coming to Qatar and building stadiums and wider infrastructure. It gives them the opportunity to earn money and send them back to their families, but you have to take care of them. Their well-being must be a priority and the main responsibility for that rests with FIFA, not with Qatar. They don’t have the experience of organizing an event on this scale, but FIFA does.
What due diligence, if any, did FIFA conduct on such a case when Qatar was awarded the tournament? It’s not enough to award the World Cup to a particular country and ignore the wider implications of your decision.
Interview by Imran Azam