The enigma of Xherdan Shaqiri (Can he be Klopp's secret weapon?)

A snippet of the Switzerland international's CV reads: 3x Swiss Super League Champions, 3x Bundesliga Champions, 2x DFB Pokal winners, 2x Champions League winner, 2x UEFA Super Cup, 2x FIFA Club World Cup and 1x English Premier League title.

The stocky winger who never seems too far away from controversy played for some of the biggest teams in world football — Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and of course Liverpool, while having also plied his trade on colder, harsher nights with Stoke City.

Xherdan Shaqiri celebrating the Champions League victory with Liverpool
Image Source: Liverpool Echo

The impressive list of trophies along with his individual accolades means that it is clearly a CV that will make any footballer proud, but it is perhaps his odd stint at the Britannia Stadium — one that stuck out like a sore thumb — that best sums up Shaqiri's curious career.

The Alpine Messi

The 29-year-old was once regarded as the finest talents in world football. He is dubbed the "Alpine Messi" earlier in his career for his diminutive frame and wand of a left foot; well capable of producing moments of magic.

Shaqiri first made his name in his home country for FC Basel; a string of impressive performances for the Swiss club — including two assists in a match against Manchester United — then secured a big-money move to European giants Bayern Munich.

Shaqiri and Thiago playing for Bayern Munich
Image Source: Rousing the Kop

The stocky winger often played on the right-wing, boasting incredible technique and balance. He faced stiff competition in the team from already well-established names like Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben, but still managed to play a crucial role as Bayern dominated German football and enjoyed European success during his stint at the Allianz Arena.

At a tender age of just 22, Shaqiri was remarkably the most decorated Swiss footballer of all time — with 13 major medals already to his name. The world was then at the feet (and giant calves) of Shaqiri, who looked set to elevate his status in the sport.

He subsequently signed for Italian giants Inter Milan on a four-and-a-half-year contract, but found opportunities hard to come by in the Serie A. It was perhaps the start of a decline for the Swiss' promising career, who struggled and made only 20 appearances for Inter under Roberto Mancini.

Shaqiri for Inter Milan
Image Source: Sky Sports

It was hard to pinpoint the exact reason why Shaqiri's obvious qualities failed to shine in Italy, where it seems like it might be nothing more than a square peg that would not fit into a round hole.

Can he do it on a cold, rainy night at Stoke?

His next move to the Premier League perhaps shared the same narrative of the wrong fit — the technically gifted player with silky smooth skills opted to show up in the red and white kit of hard-hitting, no holds barred side Stoke City.

Crouch and Shaqiri celebrating a goal for Stoke
Image Source: The Liverpool Offside

It speaks volume of the trajectory of his career: having once shared the same dressing room with the likes of Ribery and Thiago Alcantara on major European nights, Shaqiri now finds himself pinging hopeful crosses to Saido Berahino and a Peter Crouch (in the twilight of his career) on cold, windy nights at the Britannia Stadium.

Are we looking at his career in reverse?

The quality he possesses was still there for all to see, as he was heads and shoulders (in terms of quality, of course) above his teammates, scoring some of the most spectacular long-range goals that had become his trademark.

Stoke's eventual relegation prompted Jurgen Klopp to sign for him on a five-year deal in 2018; a move that would appear to make sense of both parties — Shaqiri is clearly too good to be in the Championship, while the Reds felt the need to boost their attacking options after their Champions League final disappointment against Real Madrid.

Fast forward to 2021...

Two-and-a-half seasons later, it is fair to say that the number 23 has yet to really find his feet at Anfield despite an excellent start that had left all fans excited.

His first full start earned him a man-of-the-match award after an impressive performance in a 3-0 win against Southampton, where he displayed his excellent vision and brought a sense of unpredictability that was missing after Philippe Coutinho's departure.

Failure to find consistency and injuries have then kept him out for prolonged spells, as he struggled to nail down a starting spot in a squad brimmed with world-class talents.

Shaqiri celebrating a goal against Manchester United
Image Source: The National

As he approaches his third season, Shaqiri's two goals against Manchester United, a goal in the derby against Everton and his key role against Barcelona in the famous Champions League semi-final clash remains the obvious standouts in his Anfield career; all great moments that will do down in the club's history but you start to wonder: is it really enough?

The recent arrivals of Takumi Minamino and Diogo Jota have made Shaqiri's task even tougher this season, as he looks to give his career a much-needed new lease of life after committing his future at Liverpool.

He has since looked bright each time he is called upon this season, providing the spark and creativity that the Liverpool team seems to lack this season. The brilliant assist he conjured up against West Ham for Jota's winner was the perfect reminder of what he can bring to the team; his vision unparalleled in the team.

Another strong showing in the FA Cup tie against Aston Villa has now fans yearning for him to start in the colossal encounter against Manchester United, a secret weapon that Klopp will surely be seriously considering.

Capable of playing in the midfield or across the front three, Shaqiri could well prove to be the catalyst for the top of the table clash after Liverpool's recent lacklustre showings.

Now 30 years of age, time is running out for Shaqiri to truly fulfil his phenomenal early promise.

On the surface, you would think he has already reached the pinnacle of football — league tiles in Poland, England and Germany while winning major European trophies. But scratch a little deeper, and the record reads: two Champions League titles, zero minutes played in each final. Very strange... for a player of his calibre.

It is still a mystery to all observers — and we bet he wonders too — that how the Alpine Messi has somehow despite achieving those accolades, looks set to be one of football's biggest enigma.


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