Xherdan Shaqiri has played and scored for seven different title-winning teams during his long career. He is not quite the most decorated player at Liverpool – that honour belongs to his former Bayern Munich team-mate Thiago Alcantara – but he has won his titles in more different countries. Unlike the illustrious midfielder, Shaqiri has experienced the ignominy of relegation too.
Part of the Stoke side that dropped out of the Premier League in 2018, nobody in the Liverpool squad knows more about success and failure than the little winger. “They were not good times,” he tells Sky Sports. “I know how it is when everything is not going well.”
At Liverpool, everything is amplified. Besides, even Stoke’s worst home run that season was only three defeats in a row. The reigning champions are currently on a run of six Anfield losses on the bounce. The eyes of the world are on Liverpool and everyone is feeling it.
“Here, everything is bigger. People from outside speak a lot more. The club is so big that there are always people talking, left and right. This is normal. It is a big club and you have to deal with that because we are also a great team. Every team can have its ups and downs.
“We are human beings. But we try to stay calm.”
This human aspect is one often forgotten but not within the club. “I have not seen my family for five or six months now. It has not been simple for me also because I am very close to my family. I cannot wait to see them again so hopefully everything gets better soon.”
The pandemic is just one of many complications that has made this a campaign fraught with difficulty. Personal tragedy has hit players and staff, injuries have prevented continuity on the pitch, and the absence of fans has been more keenly felt at Anfield than elsewhere.
“Everybody knows how our fans are when they push us. Everybody knows how many games we have managed to come back in if we concede a goal. I think there are many, many games where you can see that, many examples. Of course, we miss them a lot.
“For the smaller teams, it is easier to come to Anfield with no fans. There is no pressure. You can see that in many ways and in many games. The smaller teams have more of a chance.”
If that sounds like an excuse, that is not the intention. “Obviously, the performances have not been what we wanted in the last few months,” Shaqiri swiftly adds.
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It is just one explanation for how a team that had won 66 games out of 80, the mentality monsters who seemed capable of rolling on regardless, now find themselves so lacking in belief. A top-four finish is still within reach but something will need to change first.
“We need to get back on track and get the confidence back to win games. But we are a big team and I am pretty sure that we are going to get back to winning.
“We speak a lot together and the coach gives us the right directions. I don’t want to tell everyone what is said in our dressing room but we are speaking a lot and we know we have to come back stronger and give what he wants on the pitch. We have to stay positive.”
Liverpool missed Shaqiri. He illuminated the win over Midtjylland with his dancing feet in October and then provided a smart assist for Diogo Jota’s winner against West Ham soon after. But injury on international duty saw him miss a key period.
Jurgen Klopp welcomed his return to the starting line-up against Manchester United in January, singling him out for praise. In tough times, Shaqiri, now 29, has that streetfighter mentality, the pugnacious qualities to thrive in adversity.
“It is important to stay mentally strong and this is one of my strengths, staying focused on the game even when it is not going well. When the time comes, you need to be there.
“I am a player who likes to take risks on the pitch. That is what I try to give the coach.”
He has been trusted with more game time of late, recently completing 90 minutes for the first time in a Premier League game since scoring against Everton in December 2019. “Getting back and having some rhythm is important,” he says.
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When he is in form and flowing, he is capable of magic. Scorer of perhaps the goal of the tournament at Euro 2016, his first for Liverpool was special too – a wonderful overhead kick on his debut against Manchester United in Michigan.
“There were 100,000 people in the stadium in America,” he recalls. “It was unbelievable for me.”
Was that his best goal?
“You never forget scoring two goals against Manchester United and scoring for Liverpool against Everton. Scoring in the derby will always be with me in my memories. But if I choose one, I choose the first one against United in the friendly.
“Not the most important one but the most beautiful one.”
The aesthetics matter to him. Andrew Robertson recently said Shaqiri has the best left foot in the Liverpool squad, superior even to Mohamed Salah.
“My left foot is not bad, to be honest,” he laughs. “I showed that in training a bit with my free-kicks or when I put one in the corner. Maybe that is why they say that I am the best. But we have a lot of good left-footed players so I do not like to say that I am the best.”
A few more sweet strikes before he is done, then?
“I hope so. I am feeling good, feeling fit.”
And there are targets ahead.
The Euros with Switzerland is important to Shaqiri and an extra motivation to end the season strongly. The prize of the Champions League is there for Liverpool too. “There are many games left to play, still, and many things left to achieve.”
But if they are to have any hope of achieving that goal, the form must improve and confidence must be restored – starting against Wolves at Molineux on Monday evening.
“We are going there with better confidence now, for sure, after the Leipzig game where we won and kept a clean sheet. That can drive us on, especially in this game before the international break. If we win three points we can go to the national team in a good mood.”
Shaqiri has known highs and lows. He knows supporters have been patient. He knows too that being at Liverpool brings expectations. This form will not be tolerated for long.
“We are trying. We just need to improve performances and then I am sure we can succeed again. We have to stay positive and work hard.
“This club has to be successful. It has to be at the top.”
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