As Bayern Munich’s plethora of stars strode out onto the turf at their Säbener Strasse training complex on Wednesday, Pep Guardiola prepared his first drills of the new year.
Braving a deluge of snow, David Alaba and long-standing injury victim Holgar Badstuber finally recommenced physical activity, joining their illustrious compatriots for Bayern’s first post-Christmas session.
There was one player on the periphery of proceedings, almost an advertisement for unhappiness. Much of the tiresome January transfer window chatter has surrounded Xherdan Shaqiri, the mercurial Swiss international once nauseatingly nicknamed “the Alpine Messi”.
Shaqiri signed for Bayern in 2012 after winning a second Swiss league and cup double with FC Basel. Shaqiri was a pivotal part of the Basel set up from the age of 17, and his acquisition was seen as a major piece of business by Bayern.
Despite the noted competition for places with Robben and Franck Ribery, Shaqiri played 39 games in Jupp Heynckes’ treble winning team, scoring eight goals. Shaqiri clearly had great affection for Heynckes, judging by his joyful celebration with the retiring manager on the pitch following their league championship presentation. Things have not always been as straightforward with Guardiola though.
Shaqiri missed chunks of last season through injury and was never a regular feature when fit. The trend has continued this year and former Bayern manager Ottmar Hitzfeld, who coached Shaqiri at international level, believes Guardiola lacks trust in him.
The time has come where it is best for Xherdan to leave the club. He needs a new challenge. It is important for him now to make the next step in his development and be a starter on a regular basis.
We saw in the past six months or so that Guardiola did not trust him for the full 100 per cent, even when Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben were injured.
It was not easy for him that he still did not feature from the start then. Xherdan has also benefited from Guardiola’s arrival, but it was clear that the coach never really fully supported him.
The general consensus appears to point Shaqiri towards the exit door. Disregarding Stoke City from the discussion, as that move is extremely unlikely, Liverpool and Internazionale are muted as potential destinations for the Yugoslavian born Swiss attacker.
Both clubs would represent a step down for Shaqiri, but he would be guaranteed first team football and receive the star treatment he clearly craves. The question is, which club is most likely to secure Shaqiri and which move would make most sense for all parties involved?
It was suggested that Liverpool attempted to sign Shaqiri in the summer and that the player was open to the move, but Bayern blocked the deal. Now that the club stands to recoup the fee paid for Shaqiri (around €11 million) and neither interested party are direct Champions League rivals, the Merseysiders’ should have the finances to make it happen.
But is Shaqiri a player Liverpool need? A genuine central striker, some midfield reinforcements plus some defenders are evidently more pressing concerns. Shaqiri would certainly be the most talented player at the club, but how would Brendan Rodgers adapt the system to incorporate Shaqiri, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana (who has been excellent recently and is a Rodgers favourite) and a returning Daniel Sturridge into a cohesive attacking collaboration?
Inter are the other wildly reported suitors for Shaqiri as Roberto Mancini begins to reconfigure the side in his second spell in charge. Previous incumbent Walter Mazzarri put his team out in a 3-5-2 with wingbacks, discarding Inter’s wide players and wingers.
With Mazzarri sacked in November, Mancini has gradually tried to move back to four at the back with wide players. In the Derby D’Italia on Tuesday, Inter looked hopelessly imbalanced against leaders Juventus with a midfield of five orthodox central players.
Lukas Podolski arrived from Arsenal with Mancini’s relighting in mind and Inter were much better as a consequence of having width in the second half when the German came on as a substitute in the 1-1 draw.
Podolski immediately occupied space on the left wing. The right wing berth is certainly a pressing issue for Mancini and there could be no readily available target more suited to that than Shaqiri.
Some of Shaqiri’s best football is played on the right, as he can cut inside onto his natural left foot but also attack on the outside with his excellent weaker side. Shaqiri has the strength and physicality for the frenetic Premier League, but his speed and close control appear best suited for the lightning counter attacks of modern Serie A.
Inter would represent a new challenge for Shaqiri and he would be a signing for Calcio fans to get excited about. Both clubs hunting Shaqiri are in similar positions domestically.
Liverpool are seven points behind fourth placed Southampton in England, whilst Inter are languishing nine points behind third placed Lazio in Italy. Both are in the Europa League knockout phase aiming to win the tournament.
Inter are said to want a loan move with a view to a permanent transfer, with Liverpool willing to pay up front. That might be the deal breaker. Liverpool’s greater financial power could secure Shaqiri, but stylistically, Inter would seem a better fit for the diminutive 23-year-old.