Xherdan Shaqiri 21 Midfielder Bayern Munich
Comparisons aren’t everything, but sometimes they can be useful. Often a direct analysis of how one player performs in his role compared against another individual that plays in the same position can tell you a lot. The number of crosses whipped in, the number of goals scored - yes, that works. But then, there are other things to consider. Those contextual issues that you might not immediately pick up on. How was the team playing? What was the role the coach selected for the player? Did they need to play defensively/offensively? Was keeping a close eye on an opponent the main job rather than supporting a striker?
But let’s do some comparison on how the last twelve months have played out for three players that we identified on this list in December 2011. Three players that operate in midfield, but whose roles are different. Nonetheless, their careers - so far - are inexplicably linked, and not just because we tipped them for big things in 2012. We are going to go Takashi Usami, the Japanese midfielder, Pajtim Kasami the wayward Fulham youngster, and Xherdan Shaqiri, the golden boy of Swiss football.
Comparing Shaqiri and Kasami is a fairly obvious one. Both are of Albanian descent and both have played at junior international level for Switzerland. Despite being only eight months older than Kasami, Shaqiri’s career so far has been light years ahead of his compatriot. Whilst Kasami has been a regular for the Swiss under 21’s, Shaqiri was rapidly fast tracked to the full national side and, to date, has hit an impressive seven goals in 22 international appearances. With a low centre of gravity and a frame that lends itself to the description ‘stocky’, Shaqiri could perhaps just as easily run through defenders as he can run past them.
That proved the case in club football with Basel as the two footed wide man excelled, twice winning the double. As an out and out winger, or as an explosive second striker, Shaqiri’s stock was at its highest following Basel’s demolition of Manchester United in the Champions League just over a year ago. With two assists in the match, the Kosovo born youngster received widespread acclaim and attention from a global audience.
Whether that was the moment in which Bayern Munich decided that Shaqiri was the man for them, we can’t really speculate on here, but the decision to make a secure at all costs bid to Basel for their new superstar coincided with a decision not to exercise an option to buy Takashi Usami. That’s our ménage á trois, and if we are going to continue with the comparisons, Shaqiri looked, and continues to look a much better player than the Japanese starlet. With that in mind, Bayern’s decision was no great surprise.
So far this season, Shaqiri has performed well in a limited number of games for Bayern. He’s done everything that has been asked so far, and with the ageing and ever more fragile Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry his only true hurdles to claiming a place Jupp Heyncke’s first eleven, thinks could not look rosier. It’s been a good year for those roses.
That said though, in our opinion, Shaqiri will need to expand his repertoire a little further. Definitely too good for the Swiss League, he has the ability to become a headline grabber in the Bundesliga, but being effective at Germany’s top level may still not be enough to guarantee long term involvement at a club that will be ruthless in its attempts to succeed.
Used mainly as an impact sub so far, Shaqiri’s strength and pace, not to mention the explosive power contained in his boots, highlight a player that will terrify tiring defences across Europe. But to become a true global star, and we suspect that this is the level Bayern are aspiring, Shaqiri needs to show more in the way of intelligence and nous. There will be occasions when a herding toward the corner flag by a doubled up group of defenders is not a problem, but on others, he will need to think about how he positions himself and where the smart ball needs to be played.
Shaqiri has more than enough about him to suggest he is never going to be just a one trick pony, but Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller are clever cohorts and as they develop further as players, their Swiss friend will need to ensure he is on the same wavelength to truly succeed.
"When quizzed on his Ram-Man resemblance, Shaqiri says: "My father looked like this. I'm naturally this way." Besides, it's skill as much as strength that makes him stand out. But his physique invites inventive descriptions. Swiss newspaper Blick like to use 'Zauberwürfel', meaning... Rubik's Cube." - Jon Holmes (Sky Sports)
C+ Going well, let’s see how things are this time next year