VALON BEHRAMI, was born in Titova Mitrovica, Kosovo. At a young age after both of his parents had lost their jobs, Behrami and his family moved to Stabio in Switzerland, where he started playing football in 1993. He stayed in Switzerland for 10 years, until then Serie B side Genoa picked up the young midfielder ahead of the 2003/04 season. After impressive performances with Genoa, Hellas Verona (where he was sent on loan), and Lazio up until 2008, the midfielders time in Italy was over as he moved to Premier League side West Ham for 3 years. He then bounced back to Italy to join Fiorentina and Napoli in 2011 and 2012 respectively, before starting a new adventure in Germany for the 2014/15 season. Once again, he travelled back to England, this time with newly promoted Watford. Owned by the Pozzo family, after 2 years with the side, he moved to Italy for the 2017/18 season to play with Udinese, who is also owned by the Pozzo’s.
Valon, now 33 years of age, has 82 caps with Switzerland since making his first appearance in 2005. Another player who wanted to play for a recognized country, Behrami also wanted to give back to the nation that had allowed him to develop and grow. He has made his name known all across Europe, as he has always left a good impression on whatever club he plays for: he makes his way into the starting 11 and never is replaced as he becomes so vital to a team’s success. This past season with Udinese, he made 20 appearances for the club, scoring once, assisting once, and picking up 5 yellow cards. A player who can play anywhere in the midfield, his preference tends to be playing as a holding midfielder where we have seen him play in this 2018 World Cup so far, or a central midfielder, where he has played interchangeably his whole life.
Behrami is 6’0 tall and is a defensive work horse. Though he does not contribute as much as he would like to be going forward, he is essential to his club and country with his terrific ability to read the progression of a play and intercept through balls and passes. In addition to this, he has terrific stamina and running abilities which were all put into display in his World Cup outings to date. A standout match for him was the first against Brazil, where he was able to keep Neymar from performing at all, always sprinting at him and not allowing him to pass by.
GRANIT XHAKA, enter controversy part 1. Granit, the brother of Taulant, is the second biggest name on the list. He started his career with Basel (where he stayed for 10 years) before moving to Germany to play for Borussia Monchengaldbach in 2012. A defensive midfielder like his older brother, he is 6’0 and has been deemed by many as the next “Schweinsteiger” – pure grit and strength, with technical ability. After 4 years with the German club where he picked up over 100 caps, he moved to Arsenal in the Premier League in 2016. Since then, the now 25-year-old has made 83 appearances for the English side – last season he played in 44 matches in all competitions, starting 42 of them. He was able to secure 2 goals and 7 assists for the club, while also receiving 11 yellow cards in this process. He had an 89.1% pass success completion, with 73 total shots, and 134 attempted tackles. In addition, Granit plays for the nation of Switzerland – a different nation to his brother, as this is where he grew up.
Xhaka is well known for his aggressiveness and long shot ability. He constantly puts in a warrior’s performance playing in front of the 2 center backs with his great work ethic, grinding his hardest until the ball is won back. This is completed by constantly pressing the opponents who are incoming or using his intelligence to read a play. Though not known for his dribbling, Xhaka often beats his man by taking a quick touch when receiving the ball and accelerating in a direction. This throws off the opponent as they do not expect it from the Swiss man. In addition, his passing is sublime, completing layoffs, and working out wide in matches to move forward. He also is able to hit a long ball to switch the play with ease. Lastly, the players long shots. When the ball comes off his foot and it is on target, it is usually causing trouble for the opponent’s goalkeeper, as his shot is a rocket. This was on full display in the World Cup against Serbia, when he smashed in a shot in the bottom corner. This is where the “double eagle” celebration was performed for the first time. Xhaka drifted off towards the Swiss fans and held up his arms in that harmless “X” position.
XHERDAN SHAQIRI, enter controversy part two. The biggest name on this list, Shaqiri was born in Gjilan, Kosovo, but his family emigrated to Switzerland only a year later in 1992. He started his career with SV Augst before transferring to Basel in 2001 at the age of 10, where he worked his way up through the youth ranks. He made first senior team appearance 8 years late in 2009 as an 18-year-old, receiving interest from all around the top 5 leagues in Europe. After winning the League Cup and Swiss Cup on two occasions within 3 years, in 2012, Shaqiri accepted a move to Bayern Munich. He fit right into the squad, even playing in Champions League football with the side. That season, he became one of the players to secure a treble with the club, winning the Champions League, Bundesliga, and the DFB-Pokal. In January of 2015, after minimal playing time, he moved to Inter to play in Serie A. However, once again he was not getting the time on the pitch he wanted and opted for a move to the Premier League with Stoke City that summer. This is where he has been since, making 92 total appearances for The Potters. In addition, Shaqiri plays for Switzerland’s national side. After Kosovo joined FIFA, Shaqiri had declared that he would switch allegiances and play for his native country, but since he continued to play for the Swiss after Kosovo had become a member of the Federation, Shaqiri was ruled out for a switch.
Last season, he played in 38 total matches, scoring 8 goals while providing 7 assists – for a team that earned relegation, finishing second last, Shaqiri was a bright star in a dark time at Stoke. A small player, Shaqiri is only 5’5 – one of the shortest players in the game. This is why many thought he would not make it as a footballer, but what he lacks for size, he makes up for and provides in skillful quality. Shaqiri is left footed and is terrific with the ball at his feet. Passing, dribbling, and shooting, he is the perfect package for an attack-minded player. His preference is on the right-side of the pitch, where he is incredibly fast and uses his dribbling ability and balance to work his way into the pitch and have a shot and these hits are usually lethal, as we have seen so many times for club and nation: the bend and power he is able to put behind a ball is bizarre and he usually puts them in a spot unable for a goalkeeper to reach. He had 69 total shots last season, and 44 were outside of the box, showing how keen he is for a long-shot. Shaqiri can also play as a more central attacking player, right behind the striker, but many have seen his work from the right-flank and know this is where he is most effective. With his work ethic moving forward, he also has the vision to make key passes and spot his teammates. This is supported by 77 total key passes, or 2.1 on average per match he has played in last season.
Shaqiri scored the second goal of the match against Serbia in extra time, to secure the win for his country. Once again, after removing his shirt, the now 26-year-old performed the “double eagle” celebration, stirring more controversy between the Serbians. Despite this, Shaqiri has had an excellent World Cup outing so far, increasing his value for when he will be leaving Stoke this upcoming season.