Bruno Berner

Former Player Remembers: Bruno Berner

Bruno Berner's four-year spell as a Leicester City player coincided with the first stage of a magical journey for the Club's supporters as the Foxes won the League 1 title and settled in the Championship.
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He played in the Swiss and German leagues before he moved to England and eventually, in 2008, to City for whom he made nearly 100 appearances.

A qualified coach, he is currently manager of the Challenge League side, SC Kriens, in his native Switzerland. Bruno’s early career was with Grasshopper Club Zurich, holders of Swiss records for winning the most national championships and the most Swiss Cup tournaments. However, the start of his football career was not plain sailing, as he explained.

He told Club Historian John Hutchinson: “I moved from my local club, which was close to Zurich, to Grasshoppers when I as 14. I came through the ranks of the Grasshoppers’ Academy. I had to be patient, though. The Club offered me the chance to become a professional football player when I was 16 but my parents refused to let me do this because they said that first of all I had to learn a proper job. Only then would I be allowed to do what I wanted to do. They pulled the football contract away from the table when it was offered, saying that I had to do an apprenticeship, so I became a clerk at the bank.

“During that time I trained only in the evenings. I had to make sure that I stayed on track because colleagues of the same age and similar talents were already professionals. It was tough to accept while I was working for the whole day and could only train in the evenings and at the weekends, the best talents of my age group, the hot shots, were already professionals, training twice a day. I had to be very patient.

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Bruno Berner
Bruno Berner

Berner rose through the ranks in Switzerland before moving abroad to play his football.

“I was 19 or 20 when I turned professional. Thankfully Grasshoppers waited for me. They were patient too, because at that time I had one or two very bad injuries. At this age, this was a major setback. I was out for one whole season. I was glad I had a job because working gave me a structure to the day which was very helpful, but it was a tough time between the ages of 15 and 20.

“I had to sacrifice a lot. Other friends not involved in football went out and enjoyed life while I worked and had football but thankfully it worked out. Tough times like this as a young man give you something for the rest of your life. At the time, I was a bit mad at my parents but looking back, it was the right decision and I am very grateful that they had life experience and a long-term view of life which you don’t have as a teenager, especially when you are involved in football. My experience gave me the character I have. Thankfully I had the right people around me which is important when you are younger so that you make the right decisions.”

Bruno was at Switzerland’s top team and breaking into the first team was a challenge: “It is not easy to break into the first team even when you have become a professional. In the 1990s, Grasshoppers were by far the best team in Switzerland. They had the best first team and the best academy. They played in the Champions League twice in the 1990s. In 10 years, Grasshoppers won the Swiss Championship five times. It was hard for a youngster to break into the first team as there were so many good players.

“What people don’t know is that up to the Under-19s level, I was a striker. I was scoring a lot of goals. It was so much fun. When I started playing for the reserves, the sports director told me that if I wanted to make it in the game, with my left foot and with the qualities that I had, I should develop myself in the positions on the left-hand side: left wing, left wing-back or even left-full back. I told him that as I was close to breaking into the first team I would do whatever it took, even if I had to pull clogs on! So I took the advice and that gave me the opportunity to break into the team. There were so many quality players at the Club.”

After playing over 60 games in the Grasshoppers’ first team, Bruno moved to SC Freiburg in the German league in May 2002.

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Bruno Berner
Bruno Berner

Bruno's Basel side lost out to Middlesbrough in the UEFA Cup.

He explained: “I thought it was right to move on. In four years, I had played under six managers. It had always been a dream to play abroad. I had always wanted to play in England but Freiburg was the right option. They looked very secure in Germany’s top flight when they first contacted me but they had a terrible second half of the season and finished up getting relegated. I wanted to go there so for me this didn’t matter. I joined them and had a fantastic first year. We got promoted so I was back in the top flight. I was in my mid-20s then. It was a dream come true.”

Bruno’s successful spell at Freiburg resulted in him becoming a full Switzerland international.

Reflecting on this, Bruno added: “I had a very good time at Freiburg and it helped me to become a Swiss international. As a child, you dream about this and all of a sudden you are there. It was just amazing to play for your country. I was so proud to wear the Swiss shirt 16 times. It is one of the best feelings ever. But for injury, I might have had more caps but that is speculation of course. I really enjoyed the three years I played for the international team. We qualified for the Euros in 2004 in Portugal. Playing international football, I played against so many world-class players like Zinedine Zidane and Andrea Pirlo. It was an amazing experience and I will never forget that.”

In July 2005, Bruno returned to Switzerland to play for FC Basel. In his first season, they reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup.

He continued: “It was an amazing but short time at Basel. I joined in 2005 at a time when they were the best team in Swiss football. They had played a few years in the Champions League and, when I was there, we played in the UEFA Cup and we reached the quarter-finals, where we played Middlesbrough. We had two fantastic games against them. At that time, they had a really good team with players like Mark Viduka, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink with Mark Schwarzer in goal. We were so close to reaching the semi-final.”

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Bruno Berner
Bruno Berner

His first taste of English football came in the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers.

That is almost an understatement. Basel had won their home leg 2-0 and went 3-0 ahead on aggregate midway through the first half in the second leg, only for Middlesbrough to then score four goals, including a last-gasp winner, to seal a 4-3 aggregate victory. In January 2007, Bruno fulfilled his dream of playing in England, joining Blackburn Rovers, initially on loan.

Looking back, he said: “To play in Germany, as I had done, was one of the best things for a Swiss player to do, but I always kept an eye on English football and wanted to play in England. There are a lot of special places to play football in England.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t really work out for me at Blackburn, but I would go the same way again. I was very grateful that Mark Hughes signed me. At that time, they were a good Premier League club and I was playing against world-class players. I knew I was signed as a back-up player. It wasn’t meant to be but I had a good time there for one-and-a-half years.   

“I was looking for a club in England to prove myself at Championship level. Leicester City, who had just been relegated to League 1, came in. Steve Walsh, the assistant manager, made it clear to me that Leicester wanted to rebuild a new team and that they wanted me to be an important part of their promotion push back to the Championship.”

And so it proved. Bruno was a key member of the City side which won the League 1 title in 2009 and which reached the Championship Play-Off Semi-Final for a place in the Premier League the following season.

Bruno continued: “I didn’t know much about Leicester but I asked some Blackburn players and they told me it was a big club in England, with a big history and a fantastic fan base. They said that they would sign for Leicester. I liked the English football culture so when I got the chance to sign for a big club like Leicester, I didn’t think twice.”

In Bruno’s first season, the team broke many Club records on the way to winning the League 1 title.

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Leicester City win League 1
Leicester City win League 1

Berner's first season as a Fox ended with the Club lifting the League 1 title.

“The success that season was all to do with Nigel [Pearson],” Bruno reflected. “He knew what he was doing. He needed some time but fortunately we picked up straight away what we had to do. We were very successful, we kept our run going and we fully deserved to go up as champions. Good memories!

“The next season was probably one of my best seasons, if not the best. I was 32! I was really, really focussed and concentrated that season, every single day, because I really wanted to help Leicester City go up to the Premier League. It was also a personal ambition as I had only had a taste of it at Blackburn. Absolutely nothing could distract me, so the disappointment of losing the play-off semi-final against Cardiff City following a penalty shoot-out was huge.

“However, we had built a great platform and wanted to go for another promotion push. Nigel leaving that close season was a shock to me. Nobody expected that. To be honest, it took something from me. He is the best manager I ever played for. I had played under too many managers and had finally found one with whom I had a very good relationship and who made me believe we could achieve and suddenly he was gone.”

Paulo Sousa replaced Pearson as manager in July 2010 and Bruno continued to be first choice at left-back. However, when Sven-Göran Eriksson became manager three months later, Bruno’s first team opportunities diminished. He nevertheless signed an extra year’s contract in January 2011 before announcing his retirement in March 2012.

Reflecting on the differences between playing in Europe and England, Bruno continued: “It was much more physical playing in England than in Europe. English football is very organised. That became very clear when I joined Leicester City. I had to adapt to this style of football. It was easy to do because I had always wanted to play in England

“In European football, you have to be very clever tactically. There is more possession, keeping the ball, and not always going forward which you have to do in England. Provoking things up front is a major part of English football. In Europe, you are more patient. More time is taken to create and develop things in the whole build-up. That is the major difference between European and English football.”

After retiring, Bruno returned to Switzerland. He was manager of third tier side FC Tuggen from 2016 until 2017, when he moved to his present post as first team manager at FC Kriens in the Swiss second tier.

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