COMMENT: The Switzerland international is widely regarded as one of the most exciting young players in the world – but he continues to struggle for game time at the Allianz Arena
By Mark Doyle
Xherdan Shaqiri stated earlier this year that he did not think twice about joining Bayern Munich two years ago. However, it became abundantly clear during the summer that the winger was having second thoughts about staying at the Allianz Arena.
It was easy to understand why. The 22-year-old was one of the most exciting young players on show at Brazil 2014, scoring a hat-trick in Switzerland’s 3-0 win over Honduras – yet he was coming off the back of a season in which he was afforded just 10 starts in the Bundesliga.
After joining from Basel in the summer of 2012, Shaqiri was more than happy to bide his time at Bayern, with his path to the first team blocked by Franck Ribery. He was initially content to learn from the Frenchman, rather than replace him.
“It does not really matter who features from the start and who has to settle for a spot on the bench,” he stated. “The most important thing is that we act as a team. Only then can we be successful. Even when I end up on the bench, I still don’t really mind.”
However, during the course of last season Shaqiri became increasingly frustrated by having to play second fiddle to Ribery. Shaqiri is team player and has been praised for his character at Bayern but he is also acutely aware of his own worth. He has faith in his ability and his performances in Brazil only reinforced his belief that not only did he want regular football, he deserved it.
“I’m now looking to take the next step,” he explained. “I want to be starting the important matches too.”
Consequently, Shaqiri sought a summer move away from Bavaria, with Liverpool, Roma and Juventus vying for his services. Bayern wouldn’t let him leave, though, as the powers that be at the Allianz Arena are just as aware of Shaqiri’s qualities as the player himself. Only last year, sporting director Matthias Sammer described him as “world class”, while club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said the idea of selling the Swiss had never even entered his head – despite the widespread interest in the player.
“We’ve had several enquiries from teams in England and Italy,” he revealed. “But I’ve never had a conversation [about selling him] because we are convinced he will have a good career with us. He must stay healthy, [but] the coach [Pep Guardiola] is convinced by him. Xherdan is an important player for the future. There are no thoughts at all about selling him.”
Shaqiri accepted Bayern’s stance with customary grace. But he continues to cut a frustrated figure. After starting the DFL-Supercup against Borussia Dortmund and the DFB-Pokal clash with Preussen Munster, he was relegated to the bench for the Bundesliga opener against Wolfsburg. His disappointment was obvious.
“The coach has decided it, so you have to accept it. I have to deal with it and try to impose myself [on the team]. Clearly you’re disappointed if you are not in the starting line-up. We must not talk about transfers, though, it has been talked about enough. I only answer questions regarding the game.”
However, whether he likes it or not, the questions are not going to go away. Nor are his own doubts. Particularly as he is such a central figure with Switzerland, with former boss Ottmar Hitzfeld having helped Shaqiri realise his full potential by deploying him as a No.10 at the World Cup. He is unlikely to ever be given such freedom by Guardiola at the Allianz Arena.
Hitzfeld, of course, is a Bayern legend and he has advised his star man to remain in Bavaria. “Xherdan currently plays for the best club in the world and has the ability to secure regular first-team action,” the German argued. “He should remain patient.”
It seems as if Shaqiri is listening as he is now talking about extending his contract, which expires in 2016. However, if he continues to spend more time on the bench than the field, that patience will eventually run out.
With his wonderful technique and remarkable physique (he is know as ‘Power Cube’ in Germany), Shaqiri is capable of becoming a true footballing superstar. However, he will not develop as he should by merely serving as Ribery’s understudy. Leaving Bayern might seem like dropping down a level but Shaqiri now seems to realise that he might have to take one step back in order to make one giant leap forward.
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