Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Shaqiri: It Just Makes Sense

Liverpool recently confirmed the signing of Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri from Stoke. The fee is rumoured to be somewhere in the region of thirteen million pounds, a relatively trifling sum in the modern market. Klopp will be hoping that the winger can deliver serious value on the investment, and he certainly has the talent to do so – even if he completely fails to show his best form at Liverpool, however, it is still hard to envisage his stock depreciating in any significant manner. As the manager said, this deal is a “no-brainer”.

Plenty of supporters will remember getting very excited about Shaqiri when he was first linked to the club, back in the summer of 2014. At the time he was a 22-year-old talent who had showcased his potential in Bayern’s historic treble-winning season the previous year; he had struggled for consistent game time in the star-studded squad, but looked capable of being a world-beater in the right side.

Now 26, he has arguably never quite found that side – his spell at Inter lasted just six months, while Stoke lacked the quality to fully unlock his potential. However, Shaqiri was able to progress a lot personally during his time at The Potters. Frequently tasked with winning matches on his own, he delivered with impressive regularity: last season proved a stretch too far even for him, as Stoke found themselves relegated to the Championship, but Shaqiri’s own numbers were the best he has posted since joining the Premier League.

His core attributes look ready-made for a Klopp system. Almost any player in the world would be required to raise their distance covered during a match in order to fit in at Liverpool, but the Swiss winger is by no means a long way off the pace – his eagerness to put in the hard yards is apparent whenever he plays, and there is little doubt about his physical condition. His versatility is also important. Few if any new signings could be guaranteed a starting berth in Liverpool’s attack, and Shaqiri is no exception; it is likely that he will be required in a variety of positions across the course of a long season. This will not be a problem: not only has he played on both wings, his average positions for Stoke reveal a significant amount of time spent in a more central and withdrawn role. He is comfortable creating chances from this pocket – with the likes of Salah and Mane as runners, his assist numbers will only improve.

Add to this package his pace, trickery and unerring ability from long range, and it is easy to see why Klopp moved to sign him. In the modern game, 26 is still young – Shaqiri represents a significant improvement on the current options off the bench even if he doesn’t develop at all in his time at Anfield, but there is no reason to think that he can’t finally unleash the potential that he has shown in flashes for years. It is no coincidence that Shaqiri has been a standout player at each of the last three major international tournaments: when he is given minutes in a side with a bit of quality, we see the best of him. Klopp, a veritable master of bringing the best out of players, will only help in this regard.

The one real question is whether the winger will be afforded the minutes he needs to properly reach his excitingly high peak, but it would be foolish to attack the signing on this basis. For one thing, he is likely to rack up significant playing time across the course of the campaign. Furthermore, squad depth is something fans have been rightly craving for a long time – Shaqiri emphatically addresses this need, and this is a cause for celebration rather than complaint.  Imagine for a moment that Shaqiri was available to call upon in Kyiv when Salah was forced off early; the outcome might not have been any different, but it seems likely that there would have been a fair amount more confidence that the team still had a fighting chance if this level of quality could have been summoned off the bench.  

Finally, on a pragmatic note, what is there to lose? The preceding points are not empty words – Shaqiri really could develop into a player to rival those currently occupying Liverpool’s front three – but even if he does not do so, the club will suffer no great detriment. Even in a worst-case scenario where Shaqiri fails to make any impact whatsoever on the first team, it is easy to imagine that there would still be a host of clubs queuing up to take a ten-million-pound gamble on a man clearly blessed with talent. In other words, the club could likely recoup most of the fee with ease even in the unlikely event that things completely fail to work out. There are still his wages to think about, but with the likes of Bogdan and Markovic still on the books it would seem odd to take specific issue with Shaqiri.

Embrace the return to the summer of 2014. Liverpool are a team on the up, and this time the top talent has not only been linked to the club but has arrived. Shaqiri will not be a guaranteed starter, as he may have been back then, but that is just a sign of the progress the club has made – this progress will only be aided by the addition of this most talented of squad players, who with a bit of luck might yet become one of Klopp’s world-beaters.