SWITZERLAND: 12 caps

(CAREER 36)

V Ireland, Basel, 11 October 2003

V Morocco, Rabat, 18 February 2004

V Greece, Heraklion, 31 March 2004

V Slovenia, Geneva, 28 April 2004

V Germany, Basel, 2 June 2004

V Liechtenstein, Zurich, 6 June 2004

V Croatia, Leiria, 13 June 2004

V England, Coimbra, 17 June 2004

V Northern Ireland, Zurich, 18 August 2004

V Faroe Islands, Basel, 4 September 2004

V Ireland, Basel, 8 September 2004

V Israel, Tel Aviv, 9 October 2004

How many one time Armani models have the Albion had on their books down the years? If we discount the claims of Stuart Naylor, then we are left with just the one. Bernt Haas, Swiss international, known as Vindaloo – work it out for yourselves – and elegant right-back once of this locale. Not a very Sandwell sort of bloke if truth be told – the look of horror on his face as he went down the High Street atop the celebratory bus at the end of 2003/4 was an image that will live long in the memory – Bernt did his bit as the Throstles slugged their way out of the First Division and back into the Premier League for a second crack at the top flight.

For a man whose Hawthorns career was played out in something of a minor key, he made a high profile entrance into the Albion consciousness, but somewhat typically, not in the stripes. Not blue and white ones anyway. Our first meeting with Haas came in a pre-season friendly with Sunderland when he even outshone Kevin Phillips, scoring a quite glorious goal from 30 yards, an absolute screamer which he replayed – albeit from half the distance – against Manchester United in a League Cup tie in his first season for Albion.

When Haas arrived here, having escaped the clutches of Peter Reid by going on loan for a season to Basel, he was already a seasoned Swiss international, first choice right-back in a side good enough to qualify for the European Championships in Portugal in 2004. Playing regular first team football for the Throstles ensured that he retained his place in the run up to the tournament and was in the 23 that lined up in England’s group.

England, we can safely say, has not always been kind to Haas. With England ahead thanks to a Wayne Rooney goal, but struggling in the heat, Bernt picked up a yellow card after 49 minutes for a foul on Steven Gerrard. Eleven minutes later, he fouled Joe Cole and was on his way to run the bath for the rest of the team. England went on to use the spare man wisely and won 3-0, hastening Switzerland’s exit from the competition.

Haas returned to The Hawthorns, and it didn’t really get a lot better for him to be honest. Albion’s Premier League preparations included a trip to Ashton Gate to take on Bristol City. Low key stuff you might think, a simple training exercise. Not exactly. Ten minutes in and Bernt had endured an absolute roasting from Leroy Lita. It’s rare to see a player substituted after a handful of minutes, even more so in a friendly, but Gary Megson was wont to use the odd punishment substitution – cf Ife Udeze, Southampton 2003 – and the Swiss was beckoned back to the bench. Poor Bernt spent the half-time interval glued to said bench, head in his hands, not daring to venture back to the dressing room. As an aside, just how was it that somebody as laid back as Haas was bought by both Peter Reid and Gary Megson, not exactly devotees of the temperamentally horizontal.

Amazingly, Haas did find his way back into the Albion side early that Premiership season, but was never entirely established, not even after Bryan Robson came in to replace Megson. The writing was very much on the wall for him, club and country caeers veering off in opposiote directions, Bernt remaining a fixture in Switzerland’s team.

His Albion career came to a premature close amid a bizarre flurry of Christmas party shenanigans, Robin Hood costumes and misadventures with a webcam, a heady cocktail for the tabloid age, and one which it was hard to survive, Haas leaving The Hawthorns in January 2005 and thereby missing out on the Great Escape.

Never was a man, nor a national footballing mentality, better summed up than by the words of Harry Lime in “The Third Man”: “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” He could have added four World Cups for Italy, none for the Swiss.

A really nice fella was Bernie, but was he cut out for life in the rough and tumble of the Premier League? I think not.