Welcome to the first article of The Intermission’s new series,” For The Culture”. At The Intermission, we all come from different backgrounds and cultures. Sports are played all around the world and it is one of the biggest ways a nation comes together. In this series, our writers will be talking about athletes from our home countries/cities who have influenced us or our homes in a positive way.
Football is The Beautiful Game. It is the most watched and played sport in the world with over 200 countries having an official national team. In my family, my dad and grandfather were born in Switzerland. The Swiss are known for their cheese, chocolates, watches and mountains. I’ve been to Switzerland a handful of times in recent years, but I didn’t go until I was around 13.
Growing up, we would cheer for Swiss athletes like Roger Federer in tennis, or any Swiss team in the Olympics. I remember one day in 2011, I was in Montreal at my grandparents house and there was a football game on the tv. I hadn’t watched much football at that point since I was only 10-years-old. My grandpa told me the Swiss were playing but it was the under-21 team, meaning the younger players were playing. There was a player on the pitch from Switzerland who my grandpa pointed out to me. He couldn’t have been more than 5’8 and had a haircut that resembled Tin Tin. This youngster was Xherdan Shaqiri, soon to be my favourite footballer of all time.
My grandpa told me that Shaqiri played in the Swiss league for Basel but he was about to move to Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. At the time I didn’t know what the Bundesliga nor Bayern Munich were, so I was quite angered that a Swiss player was leaving the country to play in Germany. 10-year-old me didn’t understand that the best players in the world normally left their home country to play in bigger leagues across Europe. Anyways, I started to pay close attention to Shaqiri in that tournament. This was the first time in my life I actually sat down and watched football. The Swiss were good in that tournament and had some players that would go down as Switzerland’s greatest players of all-time, like Granit Xhaka, Yann Sommer and of course Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss did really well in that tournament, making it all the way to the finals before losing to a powerhouse Spanish side.
After that tournament I began following Shaqiri’s career. When he moved to Bayern they instantly became my favourite team and they still are to this day. The way the short Swiss forward would make plays on the pitch drew me in. He was so quick but had so much skill at the same time, which made it entertaining every time he had the ball. I remember some used to call him the Alpine Messi when he was with Bayern. I’ll be the first to admit Shaqiri is not even close to Messi when it comes to skill, but they are both exciting players to watch, so I’ll accept the nickname.
The 2014 World Cup was a coming out party for Shaqiri in my opinion. All my friends used to clown me for liking Shaqiri more than Ronaldo or Messi, but I knew he had the talent to make people’s jaws drop when he got the chance and that’s exactly what he did in Brazil. He scored a hattrick against Honduras in a group stage game which had me extremely hyped. The goal he banged in from 30 yards out will always be a classic Shaqiri goal. Best part of that tournament for me was the fact that Switzerland took Argentina to the final minutes of stoppage time in the round of 16. Unfortunately Angel Di Maria sent The Nati home.
I have had a lot of fun memories watching Shaqiri play. Obviously he had a short but successful run at Bayern Munich before he made a move to the San Siro in Milan. I got a Shaqiri Bayern jersey on my birthday that year, which happened to be just three days after his transfer to Inter Milan. His time in Italy didn’t last long as he made a move to the English Premier League’s Stoke City just seven months after signing in Italy.
When Shaqiri went to Stoke City in 2015, he was now playing in the most popular football league in the world. Despite Stoke not being an elite club that would compete for a place in Europe, Shaqiri being in England meant he would be playing against top competition in the world. I really watched almost three seasons of Stoke just to see Shaqiri play football. I hoped he would move to a bigger club and luckily when Stoke were relegated, Liverpool was calling.
Shaqiri hasn’t played a lot with Liverpool, but when he plays, they normally win. Big Shaq banged in two goals off the bench against Manchester United which eventually led to the firing of Jose Mourinho. He also played a key role in Liverpool's 4-0 comeback win against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final.
Shaqiri has had lots of club football success including two Champions League winners medals, a treble with Bayern and a Premier League title with Liverpool, but my favourite Shaqiri moments are when he plays with the National team.
In the 2016 Euros, with Switzerland down one goal against a Polish side led by Robert Lewandowski, he scored what should have been the goal of the tournament when he buried a bicycle kick into the back of the net, forcing the game to go to penalties. When I saw the cross in the air and Shaqiri jump for it, I began to scream when the ball rolled towards goal. My phone was blowing up because my friend’s knew I was the biggest Shaqiri fan boy in the world.
The 2018 World Cup might have had my favourite Shaqiri moment of all-time. The Swiss were facing Serbia in a group stage match and some Swiss players including Shaqiri and Xhaka came from Albanian heritage. Serbia and Albania have had lots of controversial relations over the last few decades. After Serbia took a one goal lead, Granit Xhaka scored a stunning goal from outside the box to make the game leveled. Xhaka celebrated by making a flying eagle gesture with his hands to represent the eagle in the Alabanian flag. In the 90th minute of the game, Shaqiri found himself in on goal and he tucked the ball under the Serbian goalkeeper’s legs, giving Switzerland a 2-1 win. Shaqiri followed in Xhaka’s footsteps by directing the eagle celebration to the Serbian crowd. That was my favourite moment in Shaqiri’s career. Not only did he win the game for Switzerland in the final minute, he also won the game for Albania, despite the fact that they weren’t playing that night.
Xherdan Shaqiri won’t go down as one of the greatest players of his generation or all-time. He won’t be mentioned in the discussions when we look at the best Bayern or Liverpool players but, Shaqiri will always hold a special place in my heart. He was the player that got me into football. Without Shaqiri I wouldn’t have found my lifelong love for Bayern Munich or the Swiss national team. Shaqiri is my favourite football player and athlete. The day that the kid from Basel hangs up his cleats will be a sad day for me, but I will look back on his career and smile because Xherdan Shaqiri was For The Culture.