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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 August 2018

Liverpool's Xherdan Shaqiri could prove astute signing for Premier League club

Talented, experienced and explosive, Shaqiri will likely be seen in action for first time in Liverpool colours at International Champions Cup in United States on Sunday night

Switzerland midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri makes for an interesting signing for Liverpool. Laurent Gilleron / EPA
Switzerland midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri makes for an interesting signing for Liverpool. Laurent Gilleron / EPA

Xherdan Shaqiri never leaves a major tournament without something extra in his luggage.

From the World Cup in Brazil, a historic hat-trick for Switzerland; from the last European championship, a contender - that bicycle-kick from the edge of the penalty area against Poland - for goal for the tournament. And from the last World Cup, a hefty fine.

The fine - some 10,000 Swiss francs or roughly Dh37,000 - was imposed by Fifa for the way Shaqiri celebrated his goal against Serbia. He made a pro-Albania gesture before stripping off his jersey to show off to a global audience the well-cultivated torso and biceps that make Shaqiri, at 1,69m, one of the game’s most musclebound midgets.

But for the members of Liverpool’s coaching staff who watched that goal, it was not the provocative gestures that mattered most but the power on display, and the mechanics of the goal itself.

With the score level at 1-1, the contest into its last minute, Shaqiri skewered Serbia via counter-attack. The time between the first pass out from the edge of the Swiss penalty area to Shaqiri’s neatly clipped finish over Vladimir Stojkovic was barely six seconds. That is the sort of powerful breaking that Liverpool regard as a forte.

Jurgen Klopp would have admired, too, the way Shaqiri, direct and purposeful as soon as he picked up possession just inside the Serbia half, held off the challenge of Dusko Tosic, the defender in pursuit. That is where all that upper-body strength really counts.

Shaqiri’s torso, and turbo-charged thighs will be seen in action for the first time in Liverpool's colours at the International Champions Cup. The club are in the United States for three fixtures, starting with Borussia Dortmund in Charlotte on Sunday night.

Shaqiri, signed for £13.5 million (Dh65.1m) from Stoke City immediately after the World Cup, has a hard case to push if he is to break into Liverpool’s full-strength starting front-three.

But at the very least he looks like a fine alternative to Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah, and a footballer well-tuned to the power-and-press Klopp formula. He also entertains: Shaqiri does not score goals at the sort of rate Salah can, but he does score spectacular ones.

He has done that in the Premier League, though not so frequently he could rescue Stoke from relegation last season. He has lately been criticised by his Stoke teammate, Charlie Adam, who told the broadcaster Talksport “at times we felt the so-called ‘big’ players never performed” and identified Shaqiri as one of the let-downs.

Shaqiri has in turn spoke of his delight at joining a club on the “highest stage”.

Shaqiri, Switzerland’s most talented footballer, is entitled to feel he has the gifts to be playing among the elite, and he knows Liverpool’s interest in him is not a whimsical, post-World Cup fancy. Four years ago, they tried to sign him, but his then owners Bayern Munich said no.

Shaqiri was at Bayern for two and half years, and there when they won the Uefa Champions League in 2013, although he was on the bench for the final. It was a position he occupied rather too often for his liking. At Inter Milan, whom he joined in pursuit of first-team football, it would be a similar story.

Shaqiri is 26 now, older and wiser. Liverpool’s hope is that he has developed in terms of pacing himself though contests in the three years he has spent in English football, and that he can work happily as an impact player in Klopp’s grand scheme.

With his bursts of speed, his capacity to conjure goals from unlikely scenarios, and his strength in one-on-one duels, he ticks the right boxes.

He has shown his stamina, too. Back to that goal against Serbia in Kaliningrad last month. It was struck, remember, in the last minute of a taut, tense World Cup match that drained both teams physically, and, evidently, emotionally.

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Read more:

Transfer window: Mahrez, Shaqiri, Jorginho and the Premier League summer signings - in pictures

Manchester United in America: Mourinho missing star names and 'worried' by shortage of players

Transfer window: How the Premier League top six are shaping up

Steve Luckings: Anderson and Yarmolenko signings offer West Ham fans cause for optimism

Ian Oxborrow: Shaqiri and nine other World Cup stars who play better for country than club

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Granit Xhaka, left, Xherdan Shaqiri created controversy in Switzerland's game against Serbia at the World Cup. Laurent Gillieron / EPA
Granit Xhaka, left, Xherdan Shaqiri created controversy in Switzerland's game against Serbia at the World Cup. Laurent Gillieron / EPA

The emotional aspect came from the political edge, and those who know Shaqiri would have anticipated his responding in some way. Shaqiri was born to Albanian-Kosovar parents in Kosovo, a territory whose sovereignty has been disputed by a series of Serbian governments.

He was one of two Swiss players - another was Granit Xhaka, who also has Albanian heritage - who made the same ‘double-headed Eagle gesture’ on scoring in the full knowledge that it would resonate with almost every watching Serb or Kosovan or Albanian, and be taken as a provocation.

Both players ran the risk, under Fifa’s regulations outlawing political statements, of being banned. The fines looked a mild rebuke. But Shaqiri has not heard the last of it.

There will be attention at Liverpool on the decoration of his boots, which at the World Cup, bore the flags of Kosovo and Switzerland.

There will be concern, too that his celebrations are kept in check. That he avoids unnecessary bookings by keeping his jersey on, however brilliant the goal he might have struck, however impressive his body-building.

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