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Friday 15 November 2019

'Swiss players can be lazy but Irish footballers just aren't like that'

Maxime Vuille in action for Shamrock Rovers against QPR at Tallaght Stadium in 2014
Maxime Vuille in action for Shamrock Rovers against QPR at Tallaght Stadium in 2014

His football career began by competing with the likes of Granit Xhaka and Xerdan Shaqiri in the youth leagues of his native Switzerland, and his work life took him through a law degree to his current post with the International Olympic Committee.

But midfielder Maxime Vuille, believed to be the only Swiss national to have played League of Ireland football, was also influenced and formed by a spell in Ireland, when he played in the First Division with Shamrock Rovers B in 2014.

The man who once battled with Shaqiri in the Swiss Cup found himself in Finn Park.

"It was a rainy night on a bumpy pitch against a very tough team. They were tough players who fought for every ball," he recalled this week ahead of Switzerland's game in Dublin tonight.

"It's surprising to learn that no Swiss player had been in the league in Ireland before me, as Ireland is not a million miles away, though it's true that when you grow up in Switzerland and hope to be a professional footballer, you don't dream of playing in the league in Ireland.

"But I enjoyed it there, I learned a lot and made some friends," he says.

Now 31 and on a break from football while he focuses on his legal career, Vuille had enough early talent to win a call-up for training with the Swiss national team at 15 but there was no progress. "I was too short," he jokes.

"But I played in a training camp with Johan Djourou, who was at Arsenal and at youth level I played against Shaqiri, Xhaka, Yann Sommer, Steven Zuber, a lot of the players in this squad.

"And I played in the Swiss Cup against Shaqiri, when he was at Basel."

A midfielder, Vuille played briefly in the Swiss top flight but mainly in the lower leagues and by his early 20s he was focused on a career in the legal profession, coming to Dublin to study for a year, in Intellectual Property Law in Trinity.

After initially training with UCD, Rovers manager Trevor Croly asked Vuille to play as a trialist against Wolves and QPR, and he was offered a deal. "I got to play football but I was there to study first," he says.

Registration issues held up his start at Rovers and before long, boss Croly had been axed and Vuille was moved down to the Rovers B team who played in the second tier, or the Discover Ireland tour, as it used to be know.

"I got to travel a lot," he says. "I went to Waterford, I remember a game away to Finn Harps, it was a long journey on the bus, it seemed like we went across the whole country.

"But it was a good experience for me, to play football and see Ireland."

Vuille recalls being impressed by the quality of Stephen McPhail, who played some games for the Rovers B side that season, but other Hoops stood out too.

"McPhail was superb, he saw things no one else saw, but Gary McCabe and Ronan Finn were very good players too, McPhail was not the only one with talent."

Released

Released by Rovers after seven appearances as their B team experiment ended, Vuille trained with Bohemians and Bray Wanderers but suffered a cruciate injury and returned to Switzerland to finish his studies.

His career outside of football has been good, as he recently landed a job with the IOC as an expert in Intellectual Property in their legal department, but he may resume playing next year.

Vuille came to Ireland indoctrinated in the cliché about Irish football.

"I always though football in Ireland was just kick and rush so I was surprised when I went to train with Rovers. They had technical players who kept the ball on the ground, it was not what I expected," he says.

"But what stood out for me was that, even in training, the guys there were 100%, all the time, even in the warm-up. It was done with intensity. There were no stars, no one felt they were too good or too big to work. I found that amazing.

"Swiss players are not always like that, we are a bit more laid back. Some Swiss guys will be at 50% in training and go easy, but not the Irish players, those players really impressed me."

Vuille will watch tonight's game with hope for his nation.

"We're confident. A few months ago we had done well in the Nations League but then had the draw with Denmark.

"We have lost Shaqiri for this game and he will be missed but he's not in the right frame of mind to help the team now, he needs to get back his confidence at Liverpool.

"So there is pressure on the team and on the coach as Ireland can go nine points ahead if they win tonight. Nine points would be hard for us to recover if we lose.

"We don't have many stars but we have quality players in the German leagues, in France, Italy and Portugal.

"And while Xhaka and Shaqiri are the stars, it's not all about them. Breel Embolo is playing well up front, the keepers are good. I feel we can get a win. It will be nervous, maybe 2-1, but I think we are due some luck."

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