James Horncastle on why the young Swiss attacker failed to become the next Sneijder, and how Stoke will benefit...
If seeing Xherdan Shaqiri in the stands at the Britannia on Sunday wasn’t unsettling enough for Inter fans, watching Philippe Coutinho score a screamer to win the game for Liverpool in Stoke offered a reminder of how their club has let talent go in the past only for it to flourish elsewhere. A little over six months ago, more than a 1,000 supporters gathered to welcome Shaqiri at Milan’s Malpensa airport. He was an anti-depressant in a bleak midwinter. A sign of a brighter future.
If Hernanes’s arrival from Lazio a year earlier for €15m hadn’t already underlined new owner Erik Thohir’s willingness to spend, this did. Shaqiri’s signing, however, was infinitely more exciting. His best years were still ahead of him. The perception was of a player with the sense of invention Interisti have always cherished. Players who see motorways where others only see footpaths like Luisito Suarez, Sandro Mazzola, Evaristo Beccalossi and Youri Djorkaeff, Roby Baggio, Alvaro Recoba and Wesley Sneijder.
No player, arguably, since Sneijder had generated so much excitement. This, everyone agreed, was the sort of player Inter should be signing. It was put down to the Mancini effect. Upon his return in November, he had spoken about Inter as if the years after the treble had never happened.
Why wouldn’t Inter be attractive to Shaqiri and other players of his profile? Aren’t Inter one of the most successful clubs in the world with 18 Scudetti, a trio of European Cups, UEFA Cups and Intercontinental trophies to their name? It was a lot more difficult, he said, to persuade players to join City. Top players choosing Inter, Mancini argued, should be entirely normal.
Inter the unknown
Except it hadn’t felt normal for a while. Inter were down in mid-table, hadn’t been in the Champions League in three years and in the meantime had finished sixth, ninth and fifth. It was believed they no longer had the same appeal so this was understandably presented as a genuine coup. Shaqiri had snubbed the Premier League. This made Inter fans, and those of Serie A in general, feel good about themselves.
Stoke’s interest had materialised then. Some laughed at Mark Hughes and his club for thinking they could get him. Delusions of grandeur. How dare they be so ambitious? A bigger offer than Inter’s had also been put on the table by Liverpool, but Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the Bayern Munich chairman and former Inter player, wished to do his old club a favour. “This is the deal we have,” he said. “We could have earned more by selling him to England, but we’re giving him to Inter for a discount.”
Delusions of grandeur. How dare they be so ambitious?
That reduction in price would allow Inter to flip Shaqiri for a small profit in the summer. Not that anyone believed he would be gone so soon after the ink had dried on his four-and-a-half year contract. One of Inter’s founders, Hugo Rietmann, was Swiss. Shaqiri would meet his 91-year-old son, Aldo. Their first captain Hernst Xavier Marktl also heralded from across the Alps. In addition to his talent, trivialities like these only deepened an instant sense of belonging.