Born: 22 May 1985 in St Gall (Switzerland)
Clubs: 1991-1996: Rotmonten. 1996-2004: St. Gallen. 2004-2005: Hannover 96. Since 1 July 2005: Bayer Leverkusen.
Honours: 2002: U-17 European champion. 2004: U-21 European Championship (group matches). 2004: EURO (group matches): 2005: FIFA World Youth Championship (group matches). 2006: FIFA World Cup™ (round of 16; one goal in the 2-0 win against Togo in a group match). 32 “A” international matches for Switzerland, 6 goals.
He rates as one of the best footballers that Switzerland has ever produced and with the makings of a superstar. Meet 23-year-old Tranquillo Barnetta, in demand as an advertising icon, a midfielder with Bayer Leverkusen and a FIFA ambassador for SOS Children’s Villages.
Last December, top German team Bayer Leverkusen travelled to Zurich to contest a UEFA Cup match. After landing at the airport of Switzerland’s largest city, the players were surprised to see team-mate Tranquillo Barnetta smiling down at them from a host of posters, pictures and advertisements. Barnetta, a Leverkusen midfielder who wears the no. 7 shirt. Barnetta, who plays :or Switzerland sporting no. 16. Barnetta, rhe sought-after advertising idol — and not just for EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland from 7 to 29 June.
Domestic and international enterprises have long since discovered Barnetta’s public magnetism. His unassuming and pleasant nature have already won him countless fans and, what is more, he is every mother-in-law’s dream. His appeal lies not in pithy repartee but in his convincing performances. He is a hard worker, not a phoney poser and one who emphasises family values and does not feed the tabloids with scandal-ridden rumours. For some, he is a touch too boring and banal, for others, he is simply unaffected and down-to-earth. In any case, it is a veritable breath of fresh air to find someone so natural in a business swarming with starlets and swanks.
Airs and graces are anathema to Barnetta. He has set up home in a simple flat with simple furniture in the centre of Cologne. And he drives a simple car. Other Leverkusen players who are nowhere near as highly regarded by coach Michael Skibbe reside in sumptuous shrines and drive luxury limousines.
Barnetta ticks differently from other players, although he did acquire a restaurant in his home town some time ago along with team-mate Christoph Spycher. The 23-year-old is happiest when he is at home with his parents and his elder brother, Alessandro. “Home” to him is St Gall, a town in eastern Switzerland with some 70,000 inhabitants. That is where Tranquillo grew up, went to school, completed his training as a commercial employee and earned his spurs in professional football.
By the age of 17, he was already a first-team regular for St. Gallen, the second oldest football club on the European mainland. He had already been noticed in 2002 by talent scouts from several top clubs when Switzerland surprisingly won the U-17 European Championship, with Barnetta emerging as one of the most sensational discoveries.
Weighing in at 69kg and measuring 1.78m, Barnetta is slimly built but in no way a lightweight. The midfielder is extremely fast on his feet and keeps a keen eye on the game. He is fast, lively, agile, virtually unstoppable and as slippery as an eel. And he never stops running. “But I have some shortcomings in tackling,” admits Barnetta, “so I avoid tussling for the ball.”
But he is still a fighter by any standards. On 9 October 2004, the player with the lungs of a racehorse tore a cruciate ligament in his knee after a brutal tackle by an opponent during a World Cup qualifying match against Israel. Five months later, he was up on his feet again – and playing for Hannover 96, to whom Leverkusen had loaned him. At that time, the club belonging to pharmaceutical giant Bayer had signed the 19-year-old from St Gallen but had decided to allow his talent to blossom elsewhere in Germany. After spending only one season with Hannover, Leverkusen brought Barnetta back into their fold. In no time, he was one of their stalwarts and has since become one of the linchpins in the team – as well as a crowd favourite.
DREAMING OF SAN SIRO
True to his name, Tranquillo is serenity itself off the field. But once he steps onto it, his Italian roots shine through and his high spirits take over. Barnetta is a team player, a fighter, a dynamo. “He is quite simply a superb footballer and a super person,” enthuses Leverkusen Sports Director and former international striker Rudi Voller.
Bamettas contract with Leverkusen runs until 2010 but he could change employers sooner than that for a fixed transfer fee of USD 10 million. A number of clubs are stalking him, ready to offer the midfielder the same amount or even more. The latest club rumoured to be interested in him was Arsenal.
His dream would be to play in Italy, Spain or England one day. “Yes, I would enjoy that,” says Bametta. His grandparents hail from Italy and he has often taken holidays close to the town of Bergamo, north-east of Milan. “We used to breeze through Milan in the car,” reminisces his father. “That’s what nurtured Tranquillo’s dream to play at San Siro one day.” The home of AC Milan and Inter Milan…
The experts all agree that Bametta will soon be moving to one of Europe’s elite clubs where he will be able to hone his simmering skills. Barnetta – the new Swiss superstar? Barnetta sharing the same spotlight as Stephane Chapuisat (formerly Borussia Dortmund) and Ciriaco Sforza (previously with Kaiserslauten, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich), the two most successful players in Swiss footballing history? No-one is in any doubt about that.
Barnetta, in the role of FIFA ambassador for SOS Children’s Villages, concedes: “I was delighted when FIFA and SOS Children’s Villages asked me last year if I would like to assume this honorary position,” but he prefers not to discuss it at present. His attention is currently focused entirely on EURO 2008. “This fabulous tournament in my homeland will be the pinnacle of my career,” he remarks. “I hope that the entire population of Switzerland will be behind us. I am convinced that everything will be possible for us at this EURO.”
Switzerland will be facing the Czech Republic, Portugal and Turkey in Group A – three tough nuts to crack, especially considering the recent disheartening performances of coach Kobi Kuhn’s team. It is possible that the hosts will not progress from the group round although Kuhn described his goal many years ago as the title, no less.”The Swiss national team is one cohesive unit – that has always been our strength. If we play as one unit during EURO 2008, we should go far,” muses Barnetta.
Farther than at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™? It was in the group game against Togo that Barnetta took the place by storm. Alexander Frei had opened the score after a textbook assist from Barnetta, who went on to net the second goal. In the round of sixteen, however, it was curtains for Switzerland when they came up against Ukraine. The final score was 3-0 after the penalty shoot-out, and one of the three Swiss misses was by none other than Barnetta himself…