Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka can swing from the sublime to the ridiculous in a matter of moments, but on his day he is the driving force of his team’s midfield and has featured in every one of their games at the last two World Cup finals.
Xhaka has great technical ability, but wears his heart on his sleeve, which at times has left his club coaches frustrated by petulant dismissals at key moments and earned him something of an unwanted reputation.
But at national team level, the Arsenal midfielder is more measured and played every minute of Switzerland’s recent Nations League A campaign, taking his tally of international caps to 106 since his debut in 2011.
A focused and engaged Xhaka is vital for Switzerland as he brings balance and stability as a shield for the back four. He is able to drive them forward out of defence and is a scorer of some spectacular goals, though in truth he probably should net more.
He is a straight-talker and there were rumours of a rift with his coach Murat Yakin in June, where the midfielder’s comments about the team’s tactics were perceived to be a criticism of his boss.
Both men played it down, but it is clear they each have a strong voice within the side and Xhaka’s influence goes beyond the pitch.
In response to continued questions about his captain, Yakin said the player’s role as a shield for the defence at the World Cup “is set”, closing down the debate of how he should be used.
Xhaka feels he has been unfairly picked on by officials, who on occasion react to his past. This, according to him, limits how he plays.
“This makes me do things in a different way sometimes because I know that my risk compared to the risk of other players is not the same,” he told The Athletic. “If I risk, I know I am closer to a red card than any other player.
“When I once got a red card, the referee said to one of my team mates, ‘You know how Granit is, he loses his head’. This feels wrong.” He was involved in a different sort of controversy at the 2018 World Cup when, along with Switzerland team mate Xherdan Shaqiri, he was charged by FIFA for performing an Albanian nationalist symbol when celebrating victory over Serbia.
Xhaka later apologised and was fined 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,052), but it was another sign of a player who acts, sometimes negatively, on the spur of the moment, a trait he has worked hard to tame in recent years.