To be taken with a grain of salt, but the arrival of Xherdan Shaqiri at the Chicago Fire has already gone better than his debut in Lyon.

“I spoke with him last Saturday and from the first two or three minutes you could tell how much this guy wanted to be here,” manager Ezra Hendrickson said after the Fire announced the 30-year-old Swiss international years would move. at Major League Soccer. “Just the excitement you can hear in his voice, and really wanting to come here and really help this city and this club.”

This contrasts sharply with his debut in France. Sources tell ESPN’s Julien Laurens that Shaqiri wasn’t so keen on leaving Liverpool for Ligue 1. It was only after Lyon were offered a lucrative lengthy contract that he agreed that it would be a suitable destination to succeed his Champions League and Premier League. success at Anfield.

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At the time of the conclusion of the negotiations, many within OL already suspected that the mercurial striker would not be the right candidate for the club, and Shaqiri would soon prove them right. He got along with many in the dressing room, but was particularly close to Jerome Boateng, with whom he played at Bayern Munich between 2012 and 2015, and showed little interest in maintaining close relationships with the rest of his teammates. .

On the pitch, Shaqiri was never able to consistently replicate the skills he showcased in training. In 16 appearances in Ligue 1 and the Europa League, he will register only two goals and three assists. He disagreed with Lyon coach Peter Bosz and by the end of October Shaqiri had lost his place in the team.

In short, it has become a problem. Regardless of their storied history, Lyon couldn’t afford to pay a player what they paid Shaqiri and received so little in return, not as they fought tooth and nail to stay relevant in an increasingly tough league. synonymous with the domination of Paris Saint-Germain.

That’s when Chicago called, offering to take his salary and pay a transfer fee that would more than recoup what OL had sent Liverpool to sign him in August. For Lyon, it was a blessing; for Shaqiri it was a new beginning; for Chicago, it was a promise of hope.

“If you look at teams that have been successful recently and have won championships, there’s always that special player,” Hendrickson said in February. “[New York City FC forward Valentin] Castellanos last year, a few years ago [Lucas] Zelerayan with us in Columbus, in Atlanta with Josef Martinez, and those guys like that.

“I think you need a player who can really change the game, who – with the snap of a finger – could change the game for you. Maybe it’s an 89th-minute goal or maybe that’s a special and spectacular free kick… what have you got. I think that’s something [Shaqiri] can bring to this team.”

After three games in MLS, the statistics do not necessarily confirm it. He has zero goals and zero assists in 270 minutes, although the Fire as a whole have only scored twice in that span. However, Shaqiri’s chance creation figure sits at one key pass or assist every 24.5 minutes. That’s nearly double the rate he achieved at Lyon, and he surpasses the 29.1 minutes per chance metric he recorded in a star-studded attack at Liverpool.

“The Fire seem to have found a suitable role for the Swiss international,” said scout and executive Tor-Kristian Karlsen, former CEO and sporting director of AS Monaco and ESPN contributor. “Shaqiri was originally an inverted right winger, and Hendrickson cast him quite smartly into a free-roaming role behind the lone striker. From that central role, he can alternate between dropping deep to take the ball at the beginning of the construction sometimes finding space higher between the lines.”

There are still caveats, though – Karlsen notes that Shaqiri has lost some of the energy that made him able to cover space so conscientiously in large areas during his prime.

There are also questions about his endurance. In his final season at Anfield, Shaqiri played over an hour in just seven of his 22 appearances. Was it entirely due to the limited opportunities in a squad consisting of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota? That’s what Chicago hopes for.

According to the CIES Football Observatory, MLS is the ninth most intense league in the world, with teams averaging 101.1 kilometers per game. That number is 100.8 in the Premier League, the world average is 99.9 and Ligue 1 games average 98.6km per game.

There is also the effect of air travel on player recovery. Chicago is one of the most central teams in MLS, yet three of its next five away trips – Orlando, Atlanta and New York – will require flights of two hours or more. Shaqiri has only had one away trip with such a long flight time during his entire tenure at Lyon.

Even though his stamina and speed have started to let him down, and MLS’s notoriously tough travel schedule will magnify that, there are still some incredible upsides to Shaqiri’s game in Chicago. And Karlsen has liked what he’s seen of Shaqiri’s contributions so far.

“His vision for spotting a runner and his technical ability to spot the killer ball hasn’t left him,” Karlsen said. “The slightly less rushed nature of MLS play gives creative players like Shaqiri more time on the ball to invent and execute from the middle.

“As long as there is a lot of movement around him, the 30-year-old is a likely source of creativity every time he gets on the ball.”


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