It seems almost quaint now to remember that last summer, the fallen wonderkid Xherdan Shaqiri at first rejected, before accepting, the bejeweled life raft Stoke City tossed him in order to rescue him from Inter’s bench and the career obsolescence that loomed dangerously close. Stoke are a mainstay in the biggest, best-paying league in the world, and would be so overjoyed at having a well-pedigreed forward like Shaqiri on their roster that they’d give him every single opportunity to succeed on the pitch—a proposition nowhere near guaranteed for him at any of the bigger clubs around Europe he presumably thought were more befitting of his talents—and yet he prevaricated. Shaqiri eventually did bring himself to take the great gig Stoke were offering, joined the Premier League, and got every chance to show what he could do, and what he did wasn’t all that impressive. Maybe “lowly” old Stoke was close to his actual level, after all.
But hey, it was only one season, and his debut in the very particular Premier League, and this after years of only getting consistent starts when suiting up for the Swiss national team, where he regularly thrived. Even in his relatively poor inaugural season in England, Shaqiri—basically a steel barrel with legs—still could crash into, off of, and past defenders while sprinting with the ball, still could pick out a surgical pass to a teammate with such suddenness and precision that you might still lose your jaw on the floor just recalling the ball a few days later, and most famously, still could kick the everliving shit out of the ball and send it screaming into the net from the most absurd of distances and angles. Shaqiri has always had and always will have his specific subset of self-evidently impressive skills. The question has always been whether he could replicate them often enough and combine them with the less flashy aspects of being a high-quality soccer player to make him something more than a Youtube sensation. He’s still, after all, only 25 years old. There’s nothing preventing him from turning it all around.
Stoke’s 2-0 win over Hull this weekend was the best advertisement for what a great Xherdan Shaqiri game looks like. He took three shots, the most difficult two of which he scored with, weaved past defenders with five successful dribbles, set up his teammates with five key passes, almost all of which came courtesy of that sweet, sweet left foot of his. The two hammer blows he scored understandably received most of the acclaim after the game, but that foot produced a couple of arguably more stunning hits with the two spectacular long-range through balls he sent with pinpoint accuracy to Marko Arnautović. It was a one-man show of the highest quality.
Saturday’s brace took Shaqiri’s season goal tally to three in his five EPL appearances. He’s played consistently well this season for a struggling Stoke team that desperately needs his creativity and goals. He ranks pretty high on the league leaders list for shots, key passes, and successful dribbles per game. Shaqiri hasn’t played a whole lot yet this season, but already he’s looking better than he did last year, which is much closer to what everyone thought he could be when he first broke onto the scene as one of the most promising young attackers in the world. Hopefully he can keep it up, for his own sake and Stoke’s sake and our sake as highlight-craving spectators, too. The sport is better when Shaqiri is good.