Xherdan Shaqiri: Stoke City's ‘Alpine Messi’
Xherdan Shaqiri certainly does not do things the simple way.
The Swiss superstar produced an emphatic performance for Stoke City at the weekend with his two astonishing long-range range strikes earning The Potters a vital three points.
This is a man who does not score tap-ins. Each of Shaqiri’s last five goals for club and country have been scored from at least twenty yards out and have been of breath-taking quality. Who could forget the 25 year-old’s audacious 30 yard half-volley chip that floated over Tim Howard at Goodison Park in December? Or the breath-taking scissor-kick that he produced for Switzerland against Poland during Euro 2016 in France?
The ‘Alpine Messi’ arrived in North Staffordshire during the summer of 2015 for a then club-record transfer fee of £12 million. His signing was perceived as being something of a surprise and was acknowledged as a substantial coup for manager Mark Hughes as the Welshman looked to mould Stoke into a new, more attractive and aesthetically pleasing team.
Shaqiri rose to prominence in Switzerland, rising through the ranks at FC Basel before breaking into the first team in 2009 at the age of eighteen. He helped Basel to secure two Double’s, consisting of the Swiss League title and the Swiss Cup, in three seasons which earned him national recognition and attracted the attention of some of Europe’s most prominent clubs. In February 2012 he signed for German club Bayern Munich with a reputation as one of the most exciting young players in world football. However, playing opportunities were limited at the Allianz Arena and in January 2015 he joined Inter Milan where, after a managerial change, it was announced that he would be free to find a new club in the summer.
Cue a surprise move to The Potteries.
After a relatively inconsistent start to life at Stoke, Shaqiri has now cemented himself as a key part of Mark Hughes’ team. The diminutive attacker plays on the right side of an attacking three, provided with the freedom to cut infield onto his favoured left foot and to drift into more central areas where he can receive the ball and dictate play. He fits perfectly into the structure of the current Stoke team with the intelligent diagonal runs of the likes of Marko Arnautovic and Bojan Krkic providing The Swiss star with the perfect opportunity to showcase his outstanding technical ability and vision.
His importance to Mark Hughes and Stoke is highlighted by two key statistics. First, that no other player created more goal scoring opportunities for The Potters than Shaqiri during the 2015-16 Premier League campaign; and secondly, despite Stoke’s awful start to the new season, which saw them propping up the table until recently, they are unbeaten when the Swiss attacker has played (five appearances; three draws and two wins).
Probably the most significant development in Shaqiri’s career at Stoke is that he know looks completely at ease with life in the physically demanding, high intensity arena of English football. Last season the Swiss superstar, despite moments of brilliance, was often inconsistent, drifting in and out of games and struggled to stamp his influence on the flow of matches. Now, with twelve months of experience Premier League under his belt, he cuts a much-improved, intimidating presence when he takes to the field.
On Saturday, at the KCOM Stadium, Shaqiri strode around the pitch with the arrogant swagger of a man full of confidence, demonstrating wonderful moments of entertaining skill and showing fantastic vision with a multitude of incisive passes. In what was a largely forgettable match, his two moments of brilliance earned The Potters a second consecutive win that could have been much more definitive if Marko Arnautovic, Wilfried Bony and Joe Allen had converted the goal scoring opportunities that the Swiss attacker provided them. In short, Hull City could not keep the diminutive star under wraps and each time the 25 year-old received the ball there was an sense of excitement amongst the travelling supporters that entertainment would follow.
“From Bayern Munich and Inter Milan – to Stoke City” people scoffed when Shaqiri announced his sighing for The Potters in the summer of 2015. But, if the performances of the Swiss star so far this season are anything to go by, then he might just be on the way to vindicating his nickname as the ‘Alpine Messi’.
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