In 2007, Raphael Wicky pulled on a Switzerland jersey one last time. He played 75 times for his country, and this would be his final chance, against Argentina in Basel.
There was one, tiny, five foot, seven inch problem, however. As a defensive midfielder, Wicky would spend a lot of time marking Argentina’s central attacking midfielder, a 19-year-old named Lionel Messi.
As you might imagine, it was a tough assignment.
“You can say so! You better pray not to be exposed 1-v-1 against him!” Wicky told Hot Time in Old Town.
The Swiss managed a 1-1 draw with Argentina that day, and Wicky helped keep Messi off the score sheet. But, Wicky said he could already tell Messi was going to be phenomenal.
“He was very young,” Wicky said. “But already, he was better and quicker than everyone else. The others from Argentina were amazing, but him, and actually (Carlos) Tevez, those two were a level higher than everyone else.”
That Messi photo is just one of 22 great shots we dug up of Wicky’s career before becoming head coach of the Chicago Fire. We had him look through all of them, and share stories.
Wicky spent ten years in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen and Hamburg, played briefly with both Chivas USA and Atletico Madrid, and played in Euro 2004 and the 2006 FIFA World Cup with Switzerland. So, he’s got a lot of stories to tell.
“Zidane was, for me at that time, probably the best player, or one of the two, three best players. He was so elegant. You can see he’s quite a tall guy, and me and the teammate of mine were quite small. He was just incredibly elegant, technically, and always a step, or two steps ahead. France at that time were one of the best teams in the world. Playing against Zidane was special.”
Facing Bastian Schweinsteiger’s Bayern Munich teams
“Basti is a fantastic player, but they always had fantastic players and fantastic teams. It was just always very impressive just how cool Bayern Munich was. Even when they had not the best game, they’re calm, they’re not panicking. They knew with their quality they’d have a chance. They will maybe score a goal. Sometimes teams start panicking a little bit. Bayern Munich was always calm.”
“Bayern Munich was a team in my ten years of Bundesliga I didn’t win many games. We beat them once in a cup battle with Werder Bremen, but otherwise, my battles with Bayern Munich were actually quite negative.”
Against Beckham’s England at Euro 2004
“That was at the Euro 2004. We had England and France in our group. Beckham has always been a little of an idol for me, Zidane as well, so playing against them was very special. Cool photo, actually. I think this one will be in my collage.”
On Wicky’s fellow MLS coach, Thierry Henry
“If you’re a striker, and you want to look up videos of finishing, look up Henry and some of his teammates at Arsenal, (Dennis) Bergkamp, it’s amazing how calm they are in front of the goal. And, he was very, very fast.”
“Oh, and I don’t have his shirt!”
Playing at Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park
“Dortmund was always a good omen for me. Here, it looks like I lost the duel against (Tomas) Rosicky, but I always had quite good games in Dortmund. The stadium is fantastic. It’s an incredible atmosphere. It’s just a special, special stadium.”
(Wicky said he ranks Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, Liverpool’s Anfield, Old Trafford in Manchester, and Atletico Madrid’s old Vicente Calderon Stadium as the best where he’s ever played or coached.)
Hamburg’s Champions League Season
“I think Champions League is what you want to achieve as a player. It’s the biggest competition you can play in, and I had this one season with Hamburg where we played Champions League. We had Moscow, Porto and Arsenal in our group. We finished, I think, last, but proud to have played Champions League. This was at Emirates Stadium. Beautiful stadium to play in, as well.”
Causing Trouble against France at Euro 2004
“This was part of my job. Sometimes I have to win duels. I wasn’t an unfair player, but here I was probably a little too late.”
The 2006 World Cup in Germany
“I think it’s the biggest achievement you can do for your country is playing in a World Cup. Playing a Euro cup, and playing a World Cup is even bigger, and I was able to do that, and I was really happy and proud.”
“It was a special summer. The weather was absolutely fantastic for the whole month, everyone was in this party mode. Germany was incredibly prepared, and were amazing in presenting and hosting. For family and friends it was very close to watch our games. We played in Dortmund against Togo, in front of like 80,000 people, and out of those are like 45-50,000 Swiss people. And I think that was the biggest crowd ever of Swiss people ever in a stadium.”
Getting knocked out of the World Cup, without conceding a single goal
“It ended very sad for us. We made it through the group stage with France, and then we actually lost on PKs against Ukraine without conceding any goals throughout the entire tournament.”
“I think we were the better team there. We were the more active team there. It was just a shame that we lost in PKs. Even now, you think, ‘Damn, we didn’t lose (during that era) against Italy or Germany or Spain.’ Ukraine, they were a good team, but we had a team to go further. It’s bittersweet.”
A word with the referee
“I don’t remember what I’ve done! I was a defensive midfielder. I wasn’t an unfair player, but I probably told him I didn’t make a foul. Clearly, he disagrees with me here!”
Scoring a game winner for Hamburg
“That was in the German Cup, I remember that. I didn’t score much, so that’s why I probably remember this one. You don’t even see the goal, but I scored on a free kick header from Rafael van der Vaart, the famous Dutch player. It was nice! I didn’t score that many.”
A foul or a dive?
“It’s clearly a foul! I think this was against Kaiserslauten. Maybe it wasn’t as hard as it looks like, but I wasn’t known as being a diver. It just looks very spectacular, but clearly a foul!”
Training with sheep?
“That was in Austria, training camp. Every summer with Hamburg, we went. We were somewhere in the mountains. So you can see the sheep in the background. Very idyllic to go and train.”
Celebrating at Oktoberfest
“It was a fun event with the whole team!”
Rocking the Blonde Locks
“That was 2004 for the Euros in Portugal, and right before the Euros I decided to do something different and go blonde. It was in fashion at the time. You can see there’s a lot of hair.”
Speaking of Hair...
“Hamburg is a big, big media city. There was a lot of media every single day. There was a lot of things to cover for the media, so sometimes they just did some portraits of the players.”
Wicky the Youngster
“I left Switzerland in the summer of 1997 to go play for Bremen. They bought me. My first step into another country as a player. Great memories. Bremen is a very special club still in my heart. Great memories, there.”
Early on at Hamburg
“I wasn’t a game changer. I wasn’t a guy who was able to decide a game on my own with individual action, I wasn’t a dribbler. I was important for the team because I was thinking for the others. I was covering space for the other guy. I was making room for the other guy.”
Playing in MLS for Chivas USA
“Chivas was an amazing experience for me. Since then, I was hooked to the sport in America, and I always wanted to come back as a coach. I came in to a really nice club, and really, really good teammates. A lot of the teammates now are coaches, Ante Razov, Jesse Marsch, Jim Curtin, Alecko Eskandarian works for the league, Bobby Burling, Dan Kennedy, Jonny Bornstein, who I coach now. It was a really, really good group of guys”
Coaching against Pep Guardiola
“My Champions League year with Basel. We had eight games, and five victories. I was very lucky and fortunate to coach against both teams in Manchester that season, and actually we beat them both. We beat Man United at home, and we beat Man City in Man City. Those were very special moments because obviously he and (Jose) Mourinho are two of the most famous and successful managers in the world. Great memories.”