Liverpool’s Search For The Second Shaqiri
Eyebrows were raised when Liverpool opted to trigger the £13.5m relegation release clause in Xherdan Shaqiri’s Stoke City contract in July 2018.
The Swiss winger had long been linked with Liverpool, from his Basel days throughout his stints at Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, so the Reds’ interest in the player may not have been surprising.
The question posed by many, however, was whether Shaqiri, the man, would have the correct character and attitude to play second fiddle to Liverpool’s set in stone front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino.
The perception of Shaqiri being lazy and of a questionable mind frame was not helped by ex-teammate Charlie Adam questioning the diminutive former Basel star live on a Talksport radio show.
The rotund Scotsman listed Shaqiri as one of the big-name players who went missing for Stoke during their ill-fated 2018/2019 in which they were relegated from the Premier League.
On the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast, Adam was asked directly whether Shaqiri was one of the best players who didn’t pull his weight, to which he replied:
“Oh, definitely. When the chips are down you look at your big players, you want your big players to bring magic in one moment in the season, and at times we felt like the so-called big players in the squad never turned up for us and never performed”, said the former Blackpool midfielder.
Like Adam’s short-lived stint at Anfield, his assessment of Shaqiri was inaccurate and, in retrospect, a mistake of a risible degree.
Shaqiri contributed six goals and three assists for the Reds in the Premier League — including two off the bench in Jurgen Klopp’s first ever Premier League victory over Manchester United last December — and was particularly impressive in the first half of the league campaign.
Liverpool’s tactical move back to a 433 from the 4231 they regularly played in the latter half of 2018 saw Shaqiri’s minutes limited. Where he used to play with Salah, servicing the Egyptian who had played as the team’s #9, the Swiss Albanian lost his place to Salah who returned to his right inside forward berth, with Roberto Firmino resuming his services as the Reds focal point.
Shaqiri failed the recapture his autumnal form in the second half of the 2018/2019 season, but — despite a poor performance in the game overall — provided the tie levelling assist for Gini Wijnaldum in Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final win over Barcelona.
Overall, the signing of Shaqiri has been successful for Liverpool; especially when looked at in the context of Manchester City spending £65m on Riyadh Mahrez, who only registered one more goal and one more assist throughout the league season, then the gargantuan-calved 27 year old can be considered a good signing.
With a sixth Champions League trophy sitting pretty in the trophy cabinet, Liverpool will have to find another Shaqiri on the market to navigate through a season which will be jam-packed with games.
With the Community Shield, the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup, as well as the possibility of domestic cup runs longer than a first-round exit, the Reds will need to add to their squad in order to both preserve their key players’ fitness and to increase competition for places.
The ideal player who could be the “Shaqiri option” off the left-hand side is Dinamo Zagreb’s Dani Olmo.
Not especially similar as players, the Spanish U21 international could nevertheless provide the versatility and on the field end product of Shaqiri.
If the man known as “The Power Cube” in Germany during his spell at Bayern is seen as Salah’s back up on the right — as well as offering the option of playing as the ten in a 4231 — then Olmo could be Mane’s rotation option on the left. Additionally, albeit in the relatively weak Croatian league, Olmo can play in midfield and this exposure to different roles will be to the advantage of his long term development.
Liverpool have been long credited with an interest in the 21-year-old and it is no mystery as to why. The former Barcelona youth product checks so many boxes on the “Jurgen Klopp wide forward template”.
The Spain U21 Star is quick, particularly hard working and a goal record of 17 goals and 15 assists in 71 Croatian league games is impressive. Crucially, the Spaniard is tactically intelligent and is accustomed to playing in a team that dominates games.
Olmo’s career trajectory speaks of ambition and desire to challenge himself. Highly regarded within La Masia — Barcelona’s massively renowned academy — the easy option would have been for the winger to stay in Catalonia.
With the signing of Alen Halilovic, as well as the established stars in the first team, such as Neymar, Messi and Suarez, Olmo took the path well less travelled and joined Dinamo Zagreb on a free transfer in 2015.
Olmo’s objective was to improve and mature as a player in Croatia and that has been successful.
After a strong stint in Croatia, as well as a starring role in Spain’s victorious U21 European campaign it is time for Olmo to spread his horizons further.
With a price tag rumoured to be in the €25M range, Liverpool could repeat their Shaqiri trick by landing Olmo this summer.