By Claas Philipp & Clark Whitney
Xherdan Shaqiri is "the best talent in Switzerland," Thorsten Fink recently said. But the former Basel coach was quick to add ... "after Granit Xhaka."
It is no secret that the current Hamburg trainer would like to bring Xhaka to the Imtech Arena: Basel confirmed an offer from HSV in January. And his interest indeed could cloud Fink's judgment. But there are few who know both of the Kosovo-born midfielders better than he.
With all the hype surrounding Shaqiri before Wednesday's Champions League match between Basel and Bayern Munich, it is easy to forget about Xhaka. However, the 19-year-old is, just like Shaqiri, an absolutely exceptional talent.
A left-footer, Xhaka typically lines up in defensive midfield. However, his role is more dynamic than that of the traditional 'No. 6,' and his style of play is more characteristic of a classic box-to-box midfielder. Under Fink, Xhaka even played in central defence on occasion, but he is without a doubt most comfortable in midfield.
|GRANIT XHAKA | Basel, Midfielder, 19
In addition to his aggressive tackling, Xhaka has intelligence and an understanding of football that defies his years. The Switzerland international has uncommon ability to play long-ranged passes, but occasionally chooses the more difficult option when a simple pass would be more appropriate - sometimes leading to counter-attacks against his own goal.
A refined sense of decision-making should come, of course, with age. Already, Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has labelled him the 'young Schweinsteiger'.For country, Xhaka is already a key figure. "For me, he is a regular player," explained Hitzfeld. In 2009, he was one of Switzerland's top stars at Under-17 level, and helped his team win the World Cup. In 2011, he was the youngest player in the team at the U21 European Championship, and along with Shaqiri led the side to the final.
Also in 2011, the Kosovo-born midfielder celebrated the Swiss title with Basel, which laid the foundation for the club's sensational success in the group stage of the Champions League as they knocked Manchester United out of the competition. Xhaka was of course on the pitch for the full 90 minutes in all six matches.
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Xhaka's achievements thus far are a clear testament to the talent that he possesses. Although his scoring can be improved - in 53 competitive matches for Basel he has only found the target three times; for the national team just once in six appearances - he has a very powerful shot.
Should the young talent join Hamburg this summer, the club and the Bundesliga would undoubtedly profit. On Wednesday, as Basel host Bayern, Fink's most desired player can again prove himself on the international stage. He is surely one to watch, even if he still stands in Shaqiri's shadow.