Talent Scout: Xherdan Shaqiri, FC Basel
Friday 07 October 2011
As the much maligned international break returned this week, Premier League managers up and down the country rue the unwelcome distraction it brings. Yet in the never ending search for talent, one game might make all the disruption worth while.
Look no further than tonight's Euro 2012 qualifier between Wales and Switzerland. An odd fixture to pick out? Perhaps, with both sides on the ropes in their battle to reach next summers tournament show piece, but gracing the Libery Stadium pitch will be a young prospect clubs all over Europe are enticed and intrigued by.
His name is Xherdan Shaqiri, a 19-year-old attacking midfielder from war-torn Kosovo, and the rising star of Swiss football. A product of the FC Basel academy, fans, agents, scouts and managers have known about this mercurial talent since he was 14. Now a regular in the Basel team, Shaqiri turns 20 next week, but surprisingly, nobody has taken a gamble on his undoubted talent.
Why? Well, it's certainly not down to a lack of ability. Diminutive, agile and pacy across the turf, Shaqiri boasts excellent technique and balance. He's left footed, but comfortable and equally effective on either wing or as a classic play-maker, boasting good vision and almost zero back lift in his passing and shooting.
Add to that a box of tricks and a direct running style and you've got a player who's dangerous in almost any attacking area. But what's most striking about Shaqiri is his composure in slowing fast paced situations down, allowing him to select the best option on the majority of occasions.
He's consistently improved at Basel and after shining at the Under-21 European Championships in the summer, scored a hat-trick for the full national team against Bulgaria last month. It's a CV that puts him in league with some of Europe's top starlets.
But the above doesn't tell the full story. The key reason why Shaqiri is still waiting for his big move is an under rated but integral part of any young players rise to the top - attitude. His often up front nature has put clubs off, with comments like calling himself 'a very special player' during the Under-21 Euros not helping his cause at a time when his stock was on the rise.
You need confidence and personality to reach the top end of the game, but sound bites like that have helped build Shaqiri a difficult to shake tag as an arrogant kid who would be easily distract by the big money and fame a transfer would bring. His Marmite-esque personality has also spilt over into games, with a sometimes non-existent work rate and negative body language giving an impression that he badly lacks maturity.
Shaqiri has started work on removing some of those question marks, but they can only be fully discounted by more big performances on the big stage. Tonight's clash with Wales at Swansea's Liberty City stadium may not exactly be one of those, but it's another opportunity for the rejuvenated attacker to leave a firm impression on the on-looking elite of talent hunting Premier League scouts and managers.
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