Throughout the Summer, rumours have been flying that Mario Gotze is looking for a way out of Bayern Munich, with a mooted switch to Juventus currently making the headlines.
But leaving the German champions is not a decision to be taken lightly, and if he was looking for guidance, the young midfielder did not have to look very far.
The opposition bench during Bayern’s pre-season showpiece with Internazionale in Shanghai, and one player in particular, who failed to even feature in the game, could yet provide the unsettled playmaker with a cautionary example.
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As Internazionale and Bayern played out a drab game in the most populated city in the world, one that looked every inch the pre-season marketing exercise that it was, Xherdan Shaqiri sat watching on from the sidelines.
The winger hadn’t even kitted up for the showcase; a game in which his team replaced almost their entire starting XI, making nine substitutions over the course of the match.
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Shaqiri joined Mancini’s revolution at Inter from Munich in January this year, leaving for the promise of a regular starting place with the aim of providing the creative spark needed to light up the Giuseppe Meazza and reinvigorate the challenge for a Champions League place.
Instead, six months on, he finds himself a peripheral figure; frozen out even of a meaningless pre-season friendly, arranged primarily for its potential to spin money.
Earlier this summer, Inter went as far as to agree a fee with Stoke City to sell the winger for £12m, a move only prevented by Shaqiri’s personal refusal to come to the negotiating table to agree a switch to the Potteries.
As a result, the saga drags on, with Shaqiri now a phantom presence amongst the Internazionale playing staff. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Xherdan Shaqiri, born to Kosovar-Albanian parents in Gjilan, a city at the time part of Yugoslavia, emigrated to Switzerland within a year of his birth. A long-time product of the FC Basel academy, he graduated to the senior side in 2009 as a 17-year-old, going on to win the league title in each of his first two professional seasons.
It was in his third season at the club that Shaqiri came to the attention of the wider footballing public; masterminding a shock 2-1 win over Manchester United in the group stages of the Champions League, creating both goals along the way.
Those performances put him on the radar of the assorted juggernauts of European football, and it was Bayern Munich who emerged victorious; having wrapped up a second domestic double and third league title in three seasons, the diminutive winger moved to the Bavarian club for a fee in the region of €12m.
But game time was hard to come by at one of the biggest clubs in the world. In his first season the club reached the final of the Champions League for the third time in four years, finally emerging victorious with a 2-1 win over their Bundesliga sparring partners Borussia Dortmund. The young Swiss import, however, didn’t even make it onto the pitch.
Breaking into the starting eleven of a team of such pedigree was always going to be an enormous challenge, and Shaqiri found himself making only 13 league starts in his first year, a figure that decreased to 10 the next with the arrival of Pep Guardiola as manager.
He struggled with consistency, showing flashes of brilliance instead of the constant excellence and fervent commitment that Guardiola demands of his players. He found himself unable to replicate the game-changing brilliance he had shown throughout games for Basel, his position under threat from world-class players and with his rhythm in turn disrupted by a failure to nail down a starting place.
Throughout this period, however, Shaqiri’s level never seemed to drop for his national team; a setup in which he benefitted from being the star turn and chief conductor, free to express his talent without the same fear of lurking competition, and released from the defensive contribution required by Guardiola’s relentlessly proactive, pressing style of football.
Switzerland’s ‘magic dwarf’ enjoyed another successful tournament at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, registering 3 goals in 4 games as his country reached the knockout stages. Despite that, heading back to Bayern he found playing time even harder to come by, having made only three starts by the Winter break.
The decision was made to leave, and so it was that Inter signed him on a four-and-a-half-year deal, intending for the winger to fill the creativity void that had emerged as a result of several years of underachievement and mediocre recruitment in the wake of the breakup of Jose Mourinho’s Champions League-winning side.
What Shaqiri sought was a guaranteed starting place; a platform from which he could consistently demonstrate his talent.
What Shaqiri got was 746 minutes stretched out across 8 starts and 7 appearances as a substitute; well under half of Inter’s total game time over the latter half of the season.
It’s not entirely apparent what went wrong at Inter; Mancini never quite put his trust in Shaqiri’s ability, and he flitted in and out of the team, often playing less than half a match and completing 90 minutes in consecutive matches on only one occasion.
Now he finds himself unwanted; on the hunt for a third club in just over 6 months. Wherever he goes, it looks likely to be a step down from the continental football royalty who have employed him up to this point.
It is rumoured that his favoured destination, Schalke, have pulled the plug on a mooted transfer, and that Stoke may now reignite their interest. Wherever he ends up, we must hope that this time it proves to be more than another false start.
At 23, time is very much on his side, but his next move is vital; he either gets his career back on track, or he will be in danger of becoming the next Balotelli; a wandering condottieri whose ability is talked about in the media far more than it is ever seen on the pitch.
If any of this sounds familiar, there is enough of Shaqiri’s tale in Gotze’s own experiences at Bayern to sound a cautionary note.
With Gotze himself speaking out after his team’s Audi cup win over Tottenham, it might well be worth remembering that the grass is not always greener, and that instant success, and indeed playing time, is not necessarily guaranteed at another club.
If Shaqiri’s story suggests one thing, it’s that perhaps the man who scored the winning goal in last summer’s World Cup Final might be better served staying where he is and fighting for his position, rather than departing for the uncertainty of pastures new.
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