Martin King explains why Xherdan Shaqiri only has room for improvement as he he inches closer to being confirmed as a Liverpool man after a medical on Friday.
The pending transfer of Xherdan Shaqiri from Stoke City to Liverpool recently took a step closer to completion, as the Swiss attacker arrived on Merseyside to complete a medical.
Shaqiri is set to join the Reds after the club triggered the release clause in his Stoke contract, worth a reported £13.5 million, and although fans are clearly split over the move, history does suggest that Shaqiri will only get better with this transfer.
The thinking behind Liverpool’s pursuit of the former Bayern Munich player is that it will bring suitable cover for the club’s first choice attackers, thus adding to overall squad depth.
Shaqiri is a quick, energetic and technically gifted attacker, attributes that fit in well with Jürgen Klopp’s physically demanding philosophy and a considerable amount of fans and experts would’ve already noted his ability to make a positive impact in that regard.
Others giving their take on the transfer, however, have expressed worries over the mental aspect of Shaqiri and rightly so.
The 26-year-old scored 8 goals and assisted 7 more for Stoke last season but his best efforts weren’t enough to keep the Potters in the Premier League, as they endured a poor season under Mark Hughes and Paul Lambert.
His attitude during the club’s battle against relegation made headlines for all the wrong reasons and it all came to a head when, in an interview conducted in his native Switzerland, he rubbished the quality of his own teammates, while clearly hinting that he would leave Stoke regardless of where they ended the season.
Such comments don’t reflect well on any football player’s attitude, neither does a lack of respect for your club add an extra zero to your value, so there was and probably still is reasonable doubt from the Anfield faithful over Shaqiri.
An expensive bit of history
Two seasons ago, Liverpool signed another winger in Sadio Mané for a £34 million transfer fee that raised similar questions to the ones being raised about Shaqiri today.
The issue back then wasn’t so much Mané’s ability to deal with the physical demands of playing under Klopp but his attitude.
During the season before his move to Anfield, Mané was dropped from the starting line-up at Southampton more than once for failing to show up to team meetings on time and there were numerous reports that pointed to a rift between him and then Saints manager Ronald Koeman for his poor behavior.
That obviously led to fans asking if it was really worth it paying that much for a player with questions over his attitude, however, fast forward to present day and one wouldn’t even think Mané is capable of being a nuisance given how well he has conducted himself on and off the pitch.
Why is that, though?
Players with a history of bad behavior often show signs of improvement once they arrive at a big club, one they actually want to play for. The manager, players, facilities, competitive atmosphere and club history all bring out one common quality: respect.
Take Luis Suarez for instance, the player-biting maverick once accused of football’s worst crime, racism; he player who struggled to stay on the pitch, not because of injuries but because of long-term fines and suspensions from England’s and eventually the world’s football governing body – he was a hot mess!
Still, a move to one of the world’s best clubs and a drastic change in standards was all it took to end the striker’s record of offenses. Barcelona’s pedigree and the opportunity to be a key part of it saw Suarez’s behavior change for the better because he knew, just as well as we did, that it would be foolish to lose it all over a small moment of madness.
Back to Shaqiri
The Swiss attacker finds himself in a similar position to Mané and Suarez. He has been given a huge opportunity to perform at the top level, with a top team, under a top manager and believe it or not, the winger knows he has to improve his attitude and his game.
Thankfully, the two link-up well. An improved attitude leads to improved performances and with a manager who keeps a non-negotiable policy on good behavior, Shaqiri has the right foundation to keep growing and he has already started that by cutting short his own holiday, after representing his country at the FIFA World Cup just to sign for the club.
In conclusion, he is an exciting acquisition that will surely fit in well with the squad thanks to Klopp’s trust. As he wrote in a post on The Players’ Tribune last month: “I was hungry to play against the best, always.” He will be raring to display that hunger in a red shirt next season.