A humble bank intern a couple of years ago, the Swiss defender is now on the radar some of Europe's leading clubs
The notion of people connected with Chelsea meeting a Swiss banker this week hardly seems outlandish but it may surprise you to learn that the rendezvous is to take place on a football pitch.
On Tuesday night at Basel's St Jakob-Park to be precise, for that is where Fabian Schär will take on José Mourinho's team again in the latest instalment of a vertiginous rise that, in a couple of years, has catapulted the young centre-back from being a small-town bank intern to a Champions League participant, World Cup aspirant and one of the most sought-after defenders in Europe.
Schär was a rather heralded recruit by Basel 16 months ago but has made such an impact that the 21-year-old is being lined up for an even bigger move: Arsenal and Internazionale are reported to be among his admirers but Borussia Dortmund are expected to make the first concrete offer in January after losing their influential defender Neven Subotic to a knee injury for the rest of the season.
Three years ago there was little sign that Schär was going to become such a hot property. He belongs to the same generation as the Swiss players who won the Under-17 World Cup in 2009 but he was not part of that squad. Although he made his debut as a 17-year-old in the Swiss second tier for his hometown club, FC Wil, success did not seem a certainty for him, which is why he studied for a back-up career in a local bank.
"I used to work all day in the bank and then go to training and then come home and start my homework at 10pm," he recalled recently in an interview on the website of Raiffeisen, the bank that employed him.
The same bank sponsors the Swiss Super League and for a while it seemed that might be the closest Schär would get to the top flight. His progress at Wil was not particularly smooth, as after making his debut he was demoted back to the reserves. However, he later established himself and, in his second season there, came to national attention when he scored against FC Aarau with a preposterous lob from 60 yards. The clip of the goal went viral and suggested this was no ordinary centre-back.
Still, when Basel signed him last season he was expected to spend most of his time on the bench. It was, after all, a huge step-up in quality and intensity, from playing in front of several hundred spectators to the 30,000 that regularly fill St Jakob-Park. Basel is Switzerland's only truly football-mad city and the club are serial domestic champions and an ever-present in European competition this century.
At Basel demands are high, which is why Heiko Vogel was sacked as manager in October 2012 after the side were knocked out of the Champions League before the group stages by FC Cluj at a time when they were stuttering domestically.
The present manager, Murat Yakin, inspired an upswing in which Schär has played a prominent role. The youngster could hardly have a better tutor – Yakin is a former Swiss international centre-back who had a playing style very similar to Schär's, composed on the ball with an expansive range of passing and shooting, strong in the tackle, immaculate in his positioning and dominant in the air.
In June, at the end of his first season in the top flight, Schär was voted the Swiss rookie of the year after helping Basel win a fourth league title in a row, reach the final of the Swiss Cup, which they lost on penalties, and recover from their Champions League disappointment to reach the semi-final of the Europa League, where they were beaten by Chelsea after knocking out Tottenham Hotspur, also on penalties. Schär scored the first penalty in each of those shootouts and also did so from the spot at Stamford Bridge, further evidence of the nervelessness that has helped his recent rise.
He has taken to international football with similar poise, showing typical maturity as Switzerland defeated Brazil 1-0 on his debut in August and, in the course of his next five caps, establishing himself as his country's first-choice centre-back ahead of Johan Djourou, Timm Klose and Philippe Senderos – and chipping in with three goals to boot.
He was excellent when Basel shocked Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the opening match of this season's group stages but while Mourinho's team have recovered, Basel have failed to build on that win, managing only two draws against Steaua Bucharest and losing at home to Schalke.
Their task has been complicated by the loss of the midfielder Marcelo Díaz, who suffered rib damage while helping Chile humble England at Wembley, but they still have plenty of threats, including Mohamed Salah, the winger signed last summer from Egyptian club Arab Contractors and another 21-year-old attracting acquisitive looks from Europe's elite.
For Schär, helping Basel reach the group stages could be a parting gift to the club before he joins one of Europe's leading clubs. Then again, he is not a man given to acting hastily so may decide to wait until after the World Cup rather than change club mid-season.
Either way, it does not look like he is going to have to seek a desk job any time soon. "I am one of those rare footballers who has another career ready," he said recently when asked whether he regretted getting his banking qualifications. "Besides, it's no harm to know how to manage money." Especially if you are going to be the subject of multimillion pound transfer deals.