Throngs of Internazionale fans turned up at Milan’s Malpensa airport yesterday, excited and eagerly hoping to catch a glance of an international superstar that could well turn their recently sub-par fortunes around.
Sure enough, he arrived in Italy and to the delight of the Nerazzurri fans that mobbed him, was openly seen with a blue and black club scarf draped round his neck.
The star in question, Xherdan Shaqiri, will not be unfamiliar with fans idolising him given his status as the best Swiss player of a generation at the tender age of 23; what might be new to him is appreciation and admiration from his new employers, something that has seemingly been missing at Bayern Munich.
The chance to play week-in, week-out will have been a key feature in Shaqiri’s decision to swap the Allianz Arena for the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, with the diminutive playmaker seen as a critical part of Inter’s salvation in many corners before even kicking a ball for his new club.
After exploding onto the scene as the latest sensational youngster to be moulded in the FC Basel youth ranks, excitement and Xherdan Shaqiri have gone hand-in-hand.
The attacking midfielder won three domestic titles and two cups during his incredibly successful three-year stint at Basel following turning professional, with his individual performances capturing the imagination in Switzerland.
It was not long before this stellar domestic form was being exhibited on the global platform that Champions League football represents.
Shaqiri’s best moment in Basel colours was providing two assists to knock superpowers Manchester United out of the European competition at St Jakob Park, with the hosts progressing to the knockout rounds at the English club’s expense.
Of a team of in-demand young Basel stars, Shaqiri was undoubtedly the most gifted and the side’s creative talisman on the pitch.
However, with the presence of two of the world’s best wingers in the Bavarian outfit’s squad, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, Shaqiri’s chances to play since signing for Die Roten in 2012 have been sparse.
His debut campaign afforded him his most Bundesliga starts in his time in Germany, a modest 13, while ten appearances last term and a paltry 337 minutes of league action this season, predominantly as a substitute, has seen a rare talent stifled.
The writing has been on the wall of Shaqiri’s Bayern tenure for some time, with the reported opportunity to go on loan at other prestigious clubs across the continent on offer in recent transfer windows.
However, the Kosovo-born playmaker opted to stay and fight for his place before now finally admitting that enough in enough.
He will initially join Inter on a loan deal for the rest of the season with a transfer in the region of €15 million said to be forthcoming in the summer.
With the reappointment of former head coach Roberto Mancini and the capture of Lukas Podolski from Arsenal also, signs are positive that Inter can start to challenge the newly formed hierarchy of Juventus, Roma and Napoli in Serie A – but a lot of work needs to be done.
An attacking contingent comprising Shaqiri, Podolski, the effervescent and highly impressive Mauro Icardi and Mateo Kovačić will have Inter fans salivating; but Mancini’s first task will be stemming the flow at the other end of the pitch.
For Shaqiri the chance to play regularly and be regarded as an elite player in his team once again will be a real boost, but unfortunately he will be given little time to adjust to his new environment.
The demanding Inter fans have vivid memories of a side that won an astonishing five consecutive Scudetti and the Champions League crown in the 2000’s and now see their team in 10th place on the Serie A table.
They have asked for the club to sign established stars to fire them back into contention and the arrival of Shaqiri has offered them real hope of a return to the good times.
As proven by his memorable hat-trick for his country against Honduras at the World Cup in the summer, the versatile midfielder can star as the best player in his team; something that he will have become accustomed to in his younger days.
No longer will he cameo occasionally in place of Robben, Ribéry et al; the spotlight will now be on Shaqiri to lift one of Europe’s most historic clubs from the doldrums and be the saviour that Inter so desperately need.