After plying his trade at Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, Xherdan Shaqiri has now signed a 4-year deal with Premier League up-and-comers Stoke City. While Stoke, and the Premier League will prove a stern testing ground, it is very peculiar that the young Swiss prodigy finds himself at the Britannia Stadium after being touted for great things following a rapid rise to Europe’s elite.
Much like with Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Xherdan Shaqiri’s move to Stoke City makes much more sense in reverse. Picture this if you will, a young prodigious talent at Stoke, moves to Inter Milan, realises his dream by playing at Bayern Munich, wins a Champions League title, and retires at his home club in Basel. The internet has been collectively stunned by the move, there is far more to the transfer than meets the eye. While many associate Stoke City with just a trying away fixture on a cold tuesday night, there are many reasons as to why this transfer makes much sense.
Shaqiri’s rise through the ranks of Basel earned him a dream transfer to Bayern Munich at the age of 21. Despite showing much promise in Bayern’s treble winning campaign, relegation to the bench, under Guardiola, stunted the Swiss ace’s rapid progress. A transfer to Inter Milan during the January window of this season didn’t do much to aid his cause, as injuries, inconsistencies plagued his tenure at Inter, leaving him with a very hard decision to make. Not rated by either Guardiola or Mancini, Shaqiri was touted for a big money transfer to one of the Premier League’s elite clubs. Liverpool were linked to the 23 year old as a replacement for the departing Raheem Sterling, but, it was Stoke City who surprisingly took the lead in acquiring his services.
In what seems a major step down, considering he was at Bayern Munich just 8 months ago, Stoke City are in many ways the ideal club for a player like Shaqiri.
While the expectations for Switzerland’s most decorated footballer are rightfully high, Stoke City is not the career suicide many think it to be. Reaching an impressive 9th place last season, Mark Hughes is slowly assembling a new, younger Stoke side that looks to erase the cobwebs of their stagnated style of play. Players like Mame Biram Diouf, Marko Arnautovic, Marc Muniesa, Ibrahim Affelay and most notably Bojan Krkic are being offered a unique opportunity to revive their once astronomically promising careers. Despite a terrible injury, Bojan was beginning to look like the player that every one thought would usurp Lionel Messi. Mame Diouf, though inconsistent, still ended up as Stoke’s highest scorer with 12 goals.
Stoke have admittedly made some great, yet risky transfers over the past two years. The club have grown slowly to a position where they can demand more from themselves. Since securing promotion to the Premier League in 2007-08, Stoke have made themselves Premier League mainstays, finishing on the brink of the top half consistently. Mark Hughes’ takeover from Tony Pulis has pushed the club into a new direction, where they don’t rely solely on dogged defences. The leap of faith taken in re-constructing their attack yielded tremendous positives, as the Potters climbed to 9th place. Had injury issues not plagued them, maybe even higher. The zenith of such a combined effort at Stoke came in last seasons final game, where Stoke City stunned Liverpool 6-1, sending a quite yet powerful message that their best is yet to come.
For Shaqiri, Stoke represents a perfect atmosphere to regain his game. Under the tutelage of Mark Hughes, Shaqiri knows that he will be valued, and be made a key figure in Stoke’s attack. Given a consistent run of starts in his preferred position, Shaqiri is more likely to succeed. While he hasn’t reached that level of maturity to carry a team, he is not so inexperienced that his only real chances lie from the bench. Shaqiri will also be supported by similar talents around him. The likes of van Ginkel, Bojan, and Arnautovic might not be of the calibre he became accustomed to at Munich, but they’ll aid him in a much more important manner. In Stoke, he’ll be an equal and more importantly a valued and vital member of the squad.
Whilst his shirt sales have broken records, the expectations of Shaqiri will be tempered. Stoke as a football club are aiming high, but expectations are still realistic. When Mark Hughes took a gamble on Bojan, a player who played for Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax and Roma, many laughed at the notion that Hughes could manage anything from him. Whilst injuries have had their part to play, Bojan looks a happy player – an often understated attribute that is very responsible for a player’s performance.
Shaqiri is being offered a chance to play a central role in a side where expectations aren’t astronomical. Stoke City might not make sense for the future of Swiss football, but it’s a perfect stepping stone for a player that still has much to show the world