How Xherdan Shaqiri escaped war to help Liverpool conquer Europe

How Xherdan Shaqiri escaped war to help Liverpool conquer Europe

When Xherdan Shaqiri fled war-torn Yugoslavia as a child, he couldn’t possibly have dreamt of becoming one of the stars of one of the biggest Champions League comebacks of all time. But Shaqiri’s story is anything but ordinary.

The diminutive winger’s career started in his adopted home of Switzerland, the nation he’d go on to earn 80 caps full senior caps with. He earned his club breakthrough with Basel, first with their second team before progressing to the first team, where he made close to a century of appearances before earning a dream move to Bayern Munich.

Shaqiri’s exploits in Germany saw him turn the head of European powerhouse Italy, though he was limited to just 15 appearances for Inter Milan. And, understandably, the Swiss star was eager to play more football; a switch to the Premier League soon followed.

A platform to entertain

A £12m transfer to Stoke didn’t see Shaqiri add another of Europe’s elite clubs to his CV, but it did provide a platform for him to play regular football and do what he does best – entertain. He provided a crucial assist on debut and showed his own instinct for goal in the months that followed.

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He would go on to score 15 goals in 84 appearances for the Potters before a return to club football’s top table beckoned. Following Stoke’s relegation, Shaqiri signed for the Reds, making his competitive debut in a 4-0 win against West Ham on 12 August 2018.

Jurgen Klopp handed him his first start in September and he repaid his manager with a commanding performance in a 3-0 win against Southampton. He would have to wait another month for his first goal, against Cardiff, but his star was rising.

It quickly became clear that Shaqiri’s time on the field would be more limited than it was at the Britannia Stadium, but he gradually earned a reputation as a player capable of efficiently seizing the opportunities that come his way.

Rising to the occasion

And there was no better example of that than in the semi-final second-leg victory over Barcelona that miraculously sealed the Reds’ passage into the Champions League Final last year.

Whether it’s breaking down the Opta stats or studying the football betting at Space Casino, the 3-0 defeat at the Nou Camp seemingly had Liverpool’s fate sealed. But the Reds tore up the script on another famous European night at Anfield – and Shaqiri played a pivotal role. Introduced from the bench in the second half, he produced a sublime cross for Georginio Wijanaldum to head home and put Liverpool level in the tie.

Trent Alexander-Arnold’s inventiveness from the corner kick produced a decisive fourth for Liverpool and, though Shaqiri didn’t feature in the Final against a physical Tottenham side, his small but crucial role in the win that put them there cannot be overlooked.

Now 28, Shaqiri has matured as a creative player and is established as one of the best crossers of the ball in the Premier League. And though Klopp may continue to limit his contributions, the story of the man who escaped war in his home country to play at the very top of European football will continue to captivate the Anfield faithful.