In 2011, a diminutive midfielder who really lit up the domestic league was named the Player of the Year in Switzerland. By that time, Xherdan Shaqiri had become a household name in both his adoptive country and in European football, with his immense talent and creativity dazzling opponents both at the club and at the international level.
11 years later, at Qatar 2022, Shaqiri is already at his fourth edition of the FIFA World Cup, becoming the Swiss player with the largest number of caps in the competition, 11, but also one of the three players to score a goal at the last three World Cups, the other two being in a class of their own – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But if one thinks that Shaqiri’s ascension to the top has been easy, this was not the case. In fact, it is a story about resilience, hard work and some luck sprinkled across the way, with a long journey from his hometown of Zheger, now in Kosovo, to the Swiss pastures, which adopted him and made him the great, unbreakable force he is now.
When Shaqiri was four years old, his family left Kosovo to move to pastures new in Switzerland, as the situation was starting to deteriorate. Even before the war broke out, the Shaqiris were settling in their new country and trying to make do.
“My father didn’t speak Swiss German, so he had to start out washing dishes in a restaurant. He eventually got a job working construction on roads. My mother worked as a cleaner in office buildings in the city. I was her vacuum helper, and my brothers cleaned the windows.
Switzerland is very expensive for anyone, but it was extra difficult for my parents because they were sending a lot of money back home to our family members who were still in Kosovo,” remembered Shaqiri.
Like many youngsters with Kosovar, Albanian, or ex-Yugoslavian backgrounds, Shaqiri found a bit of solace in football. He started watching the sport and even practicing in his backyard, or on the streets with friends.
Shaqiri cited one of his biggest influences in football as Brazilian striker Ronaldo, who wrote history at the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cup editions. Coincidentally, his shirt was the first one he owned. Albeit with a twist.
“My seventh birthday was three months after the World Cup, and I kept saying to my mother every day for the whole three months, “All I want for my birthday is the yellow Ronaldo jersey. Please, just get me that jersey.”
So my birthday comes, and my mum has only one box for me. I open it, and it’s the yellow Ronaldo jersey. Only it’s one of those fake ones you buy down at the market. I don’t even think it had a badge on it. It was just some yellow shirt with a green number nine. My parents didn’t have the money to buy a real one, but it didn’t matter to me. It was like the happiest day of my life. I wore it every day for like 10 days, and I even had these yellow shorts that I’d wear with it,” added Shaqiri.
This only motivated the young kid to become even better and better. He spent most of his formative years at Swiss powerhouse FC Basel, where he played between 2011 and 2012 when he was snapped by Bayern Munich for a reported fee of €11.6 million.
Stints at Inter Milan, Stoke City, Liverpool and Olympique Lyon followed, with Shaqiri adding three German titles, one Premier League title, two UEFA Champions League trophies, two UEFA Super Cups, and two FIFA Club World Cup titles to his tally.
With 111 appearances under his belt, he is the third most capped player in Switzerland’s history, with only seven caps under Heinz Hermann and his 27 goals for the national team make him the sixth best top scorer of the side.
Yet he always remembered where he started, on the streets or in the parks, where his technique was refined and he became the player he now is.
“The football was real football. Like, you would see guys get punched all the time. I never got punched, because I would keep my mouth shut, always. But playing in that park really helped me because I was a small kid, and I learned how to play with men who were definitely not joking around,” adds the Swiss midfielder.
And now, Shaqiri, who is featuring for the Chicago Fire in the MLS, has written another piece of history with his goal against Serbia, helping Switzerland deliver another berth for the knockout phase of the FIFA World Cup.
It is the third consecutive one for Switzerland and Shaqiri has played a huge part in all of them. But right now, the eyes are on another prize. If they progress to the quarter-finals, it would be the first time in history and their best-ever finish at the FIFA World Cup.
With Shaqiri in form and delivering excellent games, everything is possible.