It has become something of a trope in recent seasons that Stoke City, despite their reputation as a ‘rugby team’, had a number of players with an innate capacity to play football at the highest level.
With Bojan, Marko Arnautovic and, perhaps the most mercurial of them all, Xherdan Shaqiri, it seems incredible that Stoke would ever find themselves in a scenario where they might be threatened by relegation.
And yet with Bojan sent out into the cold and Arnautovic sold to rivals West Ham, it was left to Shaqiri, the stocky Swiss forward, to save Stoke.
Unfortunately for Stoke, though, this proved to be impossible. But it was hardly Shaqiri’s fault.
“The feeling that even a Ronaldinho could do little in this team is sobering,” admitted Shaqiri. “I had to realise that it’s a bit different when you have players like Ribery and Thiago at Bayern or Icardi and [Mateo] Kovacic at Inter. Here at Stoke, I cannot exert too much influence, simply because there is a lack of quality around me.”
The opportunity, then, for the Stoke forward to play for a team like Liverpool, who are reported to have an interest in him, would offer him a way out from the relegation mess that he finds himself in.
But would it be a good move for Liverpool?
1 Is Shaqiri consistent enough?
Shaqiri has not been awful for Stoke. In his time with the Potters, he has scored a series of wonderful goals, striking shots from absurd angles with his rocket-of-a-left-foot.
Two, in particular, spring to mind: both against Hull, involving a superb left-footed effort and a free-kick bent inside keeper David Marshall’s left-post.
Yet aside from these flashes of brilliance, there are questions that remain about his function on the team. In several performances across his three years, his consistency and lack of contribution have been criticised.
Even manager Mark Hughes was flummoxed by his performances, claiming he had ‘no idea’ what Shaqiri was doing against Swansea in his first season, when asked by a fan why the 26-year-old was strolling around the pitch.
Consistency has been an issue for Shaqiri at almost every club he’s played at. During his time at Inter, his inability to live up the hype meant that he was gradually frozen out of the starting lineup. In the end, he picked up more bookings than goals, a factor that proved to be pivotal in his exile from the club.
Whilst he may be good at producing moments of brilliance in matches, then, Shaqiri has yet to prove that he can maintain this over a series of games. This lack of consistency would mean he might not be a suitable candidate for Liverpool to pursue.
2 Does he have a 'big fish, small pond' syndrome?
Despite his inconsistency, Shaqiri has shown that he can link up well with his teammates.
For a brief period, before Mark Hughes made the mistake of separating the trio, Shaqiri, Arnautovic and Bojan tormented the defences of opposing teams across the league.
They even pulled a win over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the Catalan's first season at the club. In that game, Shaqiri played like the player Inter fans had desperately wanted him to be, feeding inviting balls into the box for Arnautovic and giving the City defenders a nightmare.
Yet at Stoke, he often seemed as though he could only play like this when he was the centre of attention. As soon as he was forced to play a more egalitarian role in the team, he struggled to fulfil the role.
This may suggest that Shaqiri struggles with ‘big fish, small pond’ syndrome. As such, if he’s playing next to stars like Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino, being forced to revert to a lesser role in the team, he may struggle to perform as well as he is expected.
For this reason, Jurgen Klopp might have second thoughts before signing him.
3 Is there an attitude problem?
Shaqiri’s consistency might be questioned, but there is no doubt about his desire to hunt the ball down, regain possession and help the team as much as possible.
The problem for him lies in trying to maintain this attitude. His attitude regarding work ethic has caused problems for every team.
Take, for example, his scathing indictment of his fellow teammates at Stoke. Having stated that ‘even Ronaldinho could do little in this team’ and that there is a ‘clear lack of quality’ around him, it is hard to see how motivated the Swiss forward was as Stoke came into the final weeks of their relegation battle.
He exhibited similar behaviour during his Inter and Bayern days, causing disagreements in the dressing room and questioning his manager’s demands. Given the opportunity to develop under the master tacticians Pep Guardiola and Jupp Heynckes, his attitude got in the way, speaking volumes about his character.
Moving to Liverpool, another club with a world-class manager, Shaqiri would no doubt adopt the same attitude. Jurgen Klopp, himself adverse to negative characters in the dressing room, will likely keep this in mind should he be given any say in the decision to sign Shaqiri.
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