Xherdan Shaqiri was the man behind many headlines last season during FC Basel 1893's UEFA Champions League run. Yet even his biggest admirers doubted he could make an immediate impact after his summer switch to FC Bayern München. The 20-year-old's pre-season with the German giants suggests differently.
In Bayern terms it has been an age since their last league title, with the club playing second fiddle to Borussia Dortmund for the past two campaigns. Shaqiri has the Bavarian faithful believing they may have found the answer to their domestic problems.
Last term critics accused Bayern of being unable to break down teams who sat deep. Despite having creative talents in their ranks, Bundesliga opponents would often find a way to frustrate the eventual UEFA Champions League runners-up.
Shaqiri's performance on Monday in Bayern's 4-0 German Cup win against second-tier SSV Jahn Regensburg hinted that he may hold the key to unlocking miserly German defences. Introduced at the interval, he scored a trademark free-kick before pulling the strings to set up two more.
"After Shaqiri came on, we played much more confidently," said coach Jupp Heynckes. "With him, we were more effective and better than before. I pushed the Shaqiri transfer and everyone who knows my opinion of him knows there is no danger of him sinking into obscurity. He has everything a footballer needs and shows it on a daily basis."
A reported transfer fee of €11.6m did not gain much currency with the rest of the Bayern squad; Shaqiri has earned his status on merit. "
In the beginning you could see that the others did not have that much respect for me," he said. "'Okay, there is the little Swiss', is how it came across but this has changed now."
Many thought this would be a transitional season, with appearances from the bench. Yet such is the buzz around the youngster there is a real chance he could start Bayern's Bundesliga campaign at newcomers SpVgg Greuther Fürth on Saturday, leapfrogging one of Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben, Toni Kroos or Bastian Schweinsteiger in the process.
"I want to bring good performances to the team. In pre-season you could see that I have settled well.
I am not just the little guy from Switzerland, you can see that. I want to improve the team." If he continues as he has begun, he surely will.
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