Footy Accumulators discuss the Nations League with former Leicester defender Bruno Berner
Berner talks to Footy Accumulators
Ahead of this week's UEFA Nations League finals in Portugal, England fans across the world are gearing up for something special, hoping that the Three Lions can clinch their first piece of silverware since the 1966 World Cup. Last summer Gareth Southgate's young, exciting side went close to greatness in Russia, narrowly missing out on a space in the World Cup final following defeat to Croatia in the semi-finals.
Ironically, England went on to then beat Croatia 2-1 when the two sides met back in November for their UEFA Nations League clash, cementing their place in this summer's semi-finals against Ronald Koeman's rejuvenated Netherlands outfit.
Many of Ajax's heroes from their unforgettable campaign in this season's Champions League will line-up against England in Guimarães this Thursday, including the likes of Barcelona-bound Frenkie De Jong, Matthijs de Ligt and Donny van de Beek.
Liverpool duo Virgil van Dijk and Georginio Wijnaldum will also be present in Portugal, just days after their memorable night in Madrid where they helped Liverpool win a sixth European Cup, defeating Tottenham 2-0 thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah and Dicock Origi.
There's no doubting that Thursday's clash at the Estádio D. Afonso Henriques will be an extremely tough one for a Three Lions side who themselves had seven players representing either Tottenham or Liverpool at the Wandra Metropolitano on Saturday, but with five straight wins since October, the nation is hopeful of success this week.
In anticipation for the big kick-off tomorrow, where the two other sides featuring at the tournament lock horns in Porto - Portugal and Switzerland - we spoke to former Swiss internatonal Bruno Berner, who spent five years playing in England for Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City.
Berner made over 80 appearances for the Foxes between 2008-2012, winning League One under then-manager Nigel Pearson and turned out for Switzerland in the 2004 European Championships, part of the squad that faced England in Portugal. We asked the 41-year-old what he thinks of Switzerland's chances against Fernando Santos' men, and which players he is most looking forward to watch at the tournament...
"As soon as you step off the Aeroplane you can just smell football in the air!"
What's the mood like in Switzerland ahead of the Nations League?
Well we are very glad to be there, it's the first time this has ever happened and of course we want to reach the final, hopefully against England! It's returned a bit of excitement to the international break which I think was needed in between the World Cup and European Championships. It's an honour to be there and the whole country is very excited for tomorrow's game.
That unbelievable 5-2 win over Belgium on the final day of qualification proves that Switzerland can beat anyone on their day, do you fancy your chances of going all the way in Portugal?
We are certainly ready to compete, we know it's going to be extremely tough because Portugal is a great side with some top players but we've shown that we have the capabilities to beat anyone if you look at the build up to the competition. Our last game against Denmark, where we were leading 3-0 until the 75th minute and conceded three late goals to draw 3-3 was frustrating because we just switched off and took it for granted. I think we now have a point to prove after that match so hopefully we can put in a strong performance tomorrow evening to rectify things a little.
Which Swiss player should we be looking out for during the Nations League?
Well, it's difficult to say. We now have so many players playing in the top European leagues and that's something we never really had in the past. The obvious player is Shaqiri of course playing for Liverpool and winning the Champions League on Saturday, he is the first Swiss player to ever with the Champions League and is always the player which carries a threat for us. But, as a former full-back myself I really like Rodriguez. He's doing great in Serie A with Milan and is such an important player for us.
What’s the perception of this current England team from the Swiss fans and media?
Well I think we all recognised what a great tournament they had in Russia last year, it showed that England is back to the top level and as we've seen with two teams in both the Europa League and Champions League final this year, it shows just how strong English football has been this season after a period where they have perhaps struggled in Europe a little. The Swiss people are very pleased to see that England is now back on top as they have the world's biggest teams with great history, there is plenty more to come, it feels just like the start for you guys.
If you could pick one player from this current England side to play for Switzerland, who would you choose and why?
Kane of course. We saw it in the Champions League final what an important player he is for Tottenham to be thrusted back into the side after being out injured for so long, it's because Pochettino knows that he can create chances from nothing and win the match for his team. Unfortunately for Spurs it didn't work out at the weekend but it still shows just how highly he is valued as a player, and if he is fit in Portugal he could prove to be the decider against the Netherlands. England have many exciting players, for instance Sancho at Dortmund - he is such a great prospect, but if I can only take one it would have to be Kane!
Away from international football and to your career in England, you were part of the Leicester City renaissance under Nigel Pearson, bouncing back from relegation to win the League One title. Then you followed it up with a spot in the Championship play-offs, just how enjoyable was it playing for the Foxes back then?
It was, i'd say, probably the best part of my career. I'd always dreamt of playing in England so to actually do that was brilliant for me. I always tried to compete at the highest level and before joining Leicester I was at Blackburn, who at the time were a top 10 Premier League side with some really great players and Mark Hughes as manager. That team was probably the most talented all round side I ever played in, and because we had to many top quality players I struggled for game time. When I joined Leicester we were in League One but were immediately promoted back after winning the league and then had a good spell in the Championship the following season. It is such a tough league, I played in the German second division earlier in my career and I can safely say that the English Championship is a much much tougher level!
Did the success you enjoy under Nigel Pearson inspire you to become a manager - or has this been a long term aspiration of yours?
I actually started my coaching badges all the way back in 2007 when I was playing for Blackburn. Swiss people always think about what is going to happen next, I was always wary that football is a short-lived career and what will I do when i'm in my thirties and can't run anymore! I did my coaching badges so that I had something to fall back on after retirement but I never really gave management too much thought, but it is now certainly something I am enjoying progressing in! I retired seven years ago now and am really loving life in management.
Would you like to return to the English game at some stage in a managerial/coaching capacity?
Very much so - England is one of the biggest footballing nation's in the world, I loved every minute of my time playing in the country and would love to return at some point. I always say the same thing to the Swiss people when I visit England that as soon as you step off the aeroplane you can feel and smell football in the air, it's not just a sport in the UK it is a culture.. a way of life! Switzerland is not like that so much, there is nowhere near as much hype around it but I think that is what makes England so unique. I love English football and I love how the English people approach the game, hopefully one day I will be a part of it once again!
And just finally.. what is your score prediction for tomorrow's game?
I think 2-1 Switzerland. It'll be a tough game for sure but I have every faith that we will pull off a result and hope to be playing England in the final!
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