Xherdan Shaqiri 22 Midfielder Bayern Munich Switzerland
2013 has been...
While Belgium have been named as dark horses for next summer’s World Cup so often that Marc Wilmots will have to coach his players in dealing with the spotlight, Switzerland could be more of a surprise package. During qualification for Euro 2012 it was the Swiss who occupied the position owned by Belgium this time around. They fell short of a finals place and their reputation dwindled, but Xherdan Shaqiri was indicative of the optimism.
An excellent player born in Kosovo to Albanian parents, Shaqiri – along with fellow Kosovar Granit Xhaka – came to symbolize the modern, multicultural Swiss national team. And while Belgium have overshadowed them for now, it hasn’t been entirely overlooked that Switzerland, under Ottmar Hitzfeld, qualified for the World Cup unbeaten in October.
Every good World Cup tale needs poignant moments and a successful tournament for Hitzfeld might just have us all looking back at the night that Switzerland secured their place with a 2-1 win against Albania, Shaqiri’s nation by blood, and the stocky FC Bayern playmaker opened the scoring with a finish that demonstrated maturity and wiles beyond his years.
Shaqiri has enjoyed club success this year too. Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern took the 2012/13 season by storm and emphatically stole back the limelight from Borussia Dortmund. Shaqiri played his part in their Bundesliga triumph, putting in an outstanding performance in the 9-2 hammering of Hamburg that left Bayern two points from the title with seven matches to play.
Heynckes added the DFB-Pokal and the Champions League to the trophy collection before standing aside to be replaced by Pep Guardiola, who quickly got off the mark by winning the UEFA Super Cup.
Shaqiri, while not a regular starter last season, was a valuable contributor, blessed with masses of quality, plenty of pace, two quick feet and an inventive football brain. Without regular football his final pass varied, sometimes opening up a defence with ease and sometimes ambitious but waywardly executed.
He can play in any position behind striker Mario Mandzukic, operating as a winger on the left or right and even showing that he has the passing and creative ability to dictate the play from a number 10 spot.
This season the young Swiss international has stepped up to become a vital part of Guardiola’s approach and he’s repaying the Spanish coach’s faith. He’s a more frequent part of an attacking corps that already boasts Balon d’Or candidate Franck Ribery and a thoroughly rejuvenated Arjen Robben, amongst others. One week he’ll be pulling the strings behind a striker, the next he’ll be focused on wide play and integrating with Bayern’s flying full backs.
He scores and makes goals, links play, tries the cheeky and devilish and, now 22, can dominate a match. Bayern’s draw against Bayer Leverkusen in October was a disappointing result for Guardiola but Shaqiri was sensational. Even better, he looked like he was having the time of his life, positively fizzing in the demands placed upon him in the greatest team in the world. Make no mistake; Xherdan Shaqiri has arrived.
Shaqiri’s 2014 has one big challenge and it’s right in the middle. If Shaqiri is Bayern’s ‘Best Supporting Actor’ then he is Switzerland’s leading man, and the World Cup in Brazil is where he’ll be hoping to come of age in full view of the world’s media. If he keeps up his Bayern form and continues to learn at a good rate, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be capable of being the key component in a run to the quarter-finals.
As for Bayern, their mission is clear: do it all over again. If they manage that, Shaqiri’s elevated status within the group will qualify him as a genuine world star.
"With his talents and performances, Shaqiri could probably start for 99% of clubs in the world. At Bayern though he has had to compromise with a squad role but many believe he is being groomed to be be Robben and Ribery's eventual replacement at the club." - Cristian Nyari, bundesligafanatic.com
"Xherdan Shaqiri was involved in a goal every 152 minutes last season in the Bundesliga; more frequently than Max Kruse and Andre Schurrle." - Opta
B Making a mark in illustrious company