Reserved, punctual, frugal. These be stereotypical aspects of the Swiss. Outdoorsy, smug, individualist. I could go on. But I won’t. Instead I’ll tell you about the their newest football-sensation, a man who’s breaking the mould of the neutralist, Alp-dwelling, yodellers. His name is Xherdan Shaqiri, he’s 19 years of age, and yes, he’s a real talent.
But for a sizzling Spanish side at this summer’s Under 21 European Championships, the Swiss would have been the young-guns on world football’s pedestal. In a year with no international competition at senior level, football-hungry eyes had to find some food for thought; and they happened to stumble upon a feast in the form Mr. Shaqiri. The Yugoslavian-born winger brought flair and excitement to an already promising side lead by Ottmar Hitzfeld’s former-right hand man Pierluigi Tami. In a squad with the equally bright talents of Granit Xhaka and François Affolter, it was, as expected, Shaqiri who shone through as the biggest and best name on the Finalists’ team-sheet.
Guaranteed to entertain you during matches with his exciting dribbling and shooting, and his ability to make you think Gerard Pique’s girlfriend is on the pitch.
- Off The Post on Shaqiri before the U’21 Championships -
You can play him on the right or the left of midfield and he’ll give you an attacking threat out wide. He can come inside from those positions, he can track back. Adept and adaptable are perhaps suitable words. But personally, the most impressive aspect ofShaqiri’s game is his crossing. Pin-point balls from out-wide into the centre are an art form. Beckham, perhaps the greatest crosserof the ball of all-time, would be proud of some of the drilled crosses the 19 year-old Swiss delivers. That is, when he isn’t venturing in-field to take on a shot; another dazzling attribute he owns. His goal, 20 mins from time against England in September 2010, a perfect example of what he’s capable of. Joe Hart looked stunned and so did England. “Where the fuck did that come from?” I remember saying when he lashed it home.
That’s the kind of thing that’s caught the eye of Hitzfeld, a man who gave him his international debut at the early age of 17. It remains, to date, his only goal in eleven senior caps for Switzerland. But I can almost guarantee it won’t be his last. Xherdan has hit some glorious goals for Basel in his time too, where he’s made 65 appearances and bagged the Swiss Super League title twice in the last two years, completing the league and cup double with FCB last term. Amongst his ten goals for the club are another ‘cut inside and thump it into the top corner’ finish against Sion, which you can see below.
And it’s that ability to strike it from long range- which he’s clearly not afraid to flaunt- that’s catching the eye. Liverpool have looked, he’s been linked with Villa, Arsenal have glanced over as well. But clearly the consensus is he needs a year or two more in Basel. Which is fine by me; get more experience as a big fish in a small pond and then, when he’s matured, learnt as much as he can from Thorsten Fink (a thoughtful manager by virtue of second name) and play a few more games in continental competitions. But there is little doubt that he will, one day, move away from the comfort of the Swiss Super League- a league ranked 16th in coefficients, one below the Scottish Premier League. When that day comes, let’s all just cross our fingers he chooses England.
Strengths: Ball control, crossing, stamina and decision-making. He’s quick on his feet and in his head; lethal.
Weaknesses: He’s not big, which isn’t essential for a winger, but it’s always nice to be taller than 5 foot 7.
He’s like: Romanian great Gheorghe Hagi, with smatterings of Lionel Messi too.
Far off the top?: A bit. He’s at Basel at the moment which won’t bring him much fame, so perhaps a move to a bigger European club would help speed up his career.
Linked with: Aston Villa, Liverpool.
How can he reach his potential?: Get a move to either the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or the Bundesliga. A big club in any of those leagues will provide him with the coaching and assistance he needs to fulfil his bright potential.