Alexander Frei is hugely experienced and well-known throughout European football. It is then slightly surprising to discover that Switzerland’s all-time top scorer only made his Champions League bow this season. However, the 31-year-old, plying his trade at Basel, firmly intends to make up for lost time, with his goals boosting the Super League side’s chances of reaching the last 16.
After a brace against Sheriff Tiraspol in the playoff round, Frei has so far hit the target against both Bayern Munich and Roma in the group phase. And while against the Germans his goal wasn’t enough to help Basel to their first points of the Champions League, a powerful shot to open the scoring away to Roma was. Frei’s goal in the Italian capital proved vital in giving Basel the belief and motivation to secure a famous victory.
Basel’s win over Roma was the first time a Swiss club had beaten the Serie A giants at home after five consecutive defeats and allowed Frei’s side to jump from bottom of their four-team group to second, due to a superior goal difference over Cluj and Roma. Frei’s coach, German Thorsten Fink, didn’t have to think too hard before pointing to the striker as a key component in Basel’s chances of success against bigger clubs.
“Although we are underdogs on the European stage, we can always count on experienced players like Frei, [Benjamin] Huggel and [Marco] Streller”, said Fink. “They are natural born leaders and are able to give the team the self-confidence needed to play against stronger opponents. I was confident of a good result against Roma, because they have always brought me luck. Last year in the Europa League we beat them 2-0 in Basel; while when I was a player I scored a brace against them in the UEFA Cup in 1996/97 with Karlsruhe.”
Frei returned home in the summer of 2009, having left the German Bundesliga, his home for three years, to sign for Basel; the 31-year-old’s goals were vital in helping the club win the Super League last season. Despite having been sidelined for two months due to a broken arm, the striker scored 15 goals in 19 matches and played an important role in the club’s Swiss Cup win too, leading Basel to the final with two consecutive braces, against FC Zurich in the quarter final and FC Biel/Bienne in the semi final.
A well-tested partnership with Streller, Frei’s team-mate with both Basel and the Swiss national team, is one of the foundations on which the club’s success has been built and continues to be a factor in their status as favourites once again in the new Super League season. Frei has so far managed eight goals and three assists in the league, helping Fink’s side to stay in touch with Hakan Yakin’s surprise package Luzern.
Over a professional career spanning 16 years, Frei has managed 140 goals in 280 games, with 40 of those coming for his country. The leading scorer in France’s Ligue 1 in 2005 with Rennes, voted Swiss Player of the Year twice, the striker has enjoyed a glittering career. It all began with hometown club Basel, leading to a trek through Switzerland with Thun, Luzern and Servette, and then on to France (four seasons with Rennes) and Germany (three with Borussia Dortmund), before coming back home to the club where it all started.
Injuries have always been Frei’s Achilles heel though. Since 2007, the forward has been out of action for a total of more than 17 months and at Euro 2008, a torn knee ligament did for his involvement in the tournament his country co-hosted with Austria; Frei managed just 45 minutes. Even two years later, in South Africa, he could only play 64 minutes of World Cup finals football. Frei’s supporters contend that with more luck on the fitness front, the Swiss star could have made an even bigger splash in the game. It is hard to argue.
If Frei hadn’t become a professional footballer, he would have probably ended up working in an office, following his qualification as a tax accountant. However, the striker grew up in a sporting family and, luckily for Switzerland, and Basel, followed in the footsteps of his uncle, a former footballer in the country’s top division. It is thanks to this that Frei has spent his time filling opponents’ nets rather than filling out tax forms.