Granit Xhaka has been transformed at Euro 2020, leading Switzerland to their first quarter-final in 67 years… but Arsenal fans won’t be surprised their disaster-prone star is suspended for his country’s biggest match in a generation
- Granit Xhaka was the stand-out player as Switzerland stunned France
- Arsenal fans could be forgiven for wondering where this Xhaka has been
- But some frustrating traits have returned with a suspension for the last eight
- He is the only player in the tournament to be suspended for the quarters
- Xhaka is almost certain to leave this summer with Roma and Juventus keen
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
Granit Xhaka has inspired Switzerland to the last eight of Euro 2020 delivering performances that Arsenal fans had forgotten he was capable of and sharpening the interest of the Italian sides who are competing for his signature.
However, it will come as no surprise to the Emirates’ faithful that he is suspended for his country’s latest – and biggest – challenge
Xhaka dragged his compatriots back into the last-16 tie with France, when they trailed 3-1 with just nine minutes to go.
And then he galvanised them to hold their nerve – his dyed blond hair bobbing in a circle of red and white shirts as he implored them to seize a famous win – before they triumphed in the penalty shoot-out 5-4.
Granit Xhaka delivers a pep talk to Switzerland’s players and coaching team ahead of their penalty shoot-out against France at Euro 2020
A few minutes later and Xhaka was celebrating a famous victory with his Swiss team-mates
It was telling that Xhaka ran straight to coach Vladimir Petkovic, who has shielded him from criticism during the tournament
Xhaka’s man-of-the-match display earned Switzerland their place in the quarter-finals and a mouth-watering tie against Spain.
But the mercurial midfielder will be missing when the Swiss take the field in St Petersburg this evening. He is the only player in the tournament to be suspended for the quarters after picking up two yellow cards.
His absence is a familiar story at Arsenal. He has received a whopping three red and 42 yellow cards in just five seasons at the Emirates.
Before his suspension, some Arsenal fans must have watched the Swiss progress wondering where this Xhaka has been for the past couple of years. Where was this impassioned leadership from the midfielder in their team?
In truth, most have moved on, expecting the 28-year-old to depart this summer, with Serie A the most likely destination, and writing him off as just another sign of the club’s decline.
But still, it must have grated just a little to see him suddenly play with such verve for his country after another season of struggle for his club.
We’ve long known that Xhaka is an enigmatic player and volatile with it. But during Euro 2020, this passion has been channelled into strong performances.
Xhaka’s relationship with Arsenal fans never recovered from the time he mouthed ‘f*** off’ to jeering supporters when subbed off against Crystal Palace in 2019
Xhaka was stripped of the Arsenal captaincy and his reputation with fans never recovered
For Arsenal it typically spills over into a sulky demeanour and acts of petulance.
He was infamously stripped of the captaincy after telling fans who jeered him off the field to ‘f*** off’ against Crystal Palace in October 2019. There hasn’t really been a route back from that moment.
Glimpses of his wand of a left foot became more infrequent.
Memories of stunning goals, such as that 35-yard piledriver against Hull City in September 2016, his first for Arsenal, and the outrageous bending strike that left David de Gea red-faced against Manchester United in March 2019, were ultimately overtaken by more sour moments.
The Palace incident looked set to kill his Arsenal career but he revived things a little when Mikel Arteta took over from Unai Emery.
Xhaka’s natural passion sometimes overflows, such as when he was sent off against Burnley last season for clashing with Dwight McNeil and Ashley Westwood (pictured)
Yet Xhaka remains capable of moments of magic, not least left footed strikes from distance
That didn’t spare him from scapegoating and abuse from a frustrated fanbase with disgraceful social media messages directed at him attacking his Muslim faith and his Kosovo-Albanian heritage as well as threatening his family.
After Xhaka was sent off against Burnley last December for clashing with Dwight McNeil and Ashley Westwood, he was sent almost 1,400 abusive messages on social media, according to one study. Some came from accounts identifying as Arsenal season ticket holders.
‘They are not supporters of my club. I do not see them as supporters of my club… If one guy is a ticket holder at the club and speaks like this about his own players I don’t think he needs respect from our side or other people,’ Xhaka said.
‘I am the guy who is on the pitch. It is not my wife, it is not my little one, it is not my family. So if you want to criticise someone, no problem to criticise me as a player but don’t make other people involved.’
Despite having two years to run on his Arsenal contract it is abundantly clear that a clean break is required after the Euros.
Captain Xhaka led from the front as Switzerland stunned the world champions in Bucharest
He was UEFA’s man of the match after an inspired display in the Swiss midfield against France
While Xhaka spoke excitedly about the prospect of a ‘home match’ at Wembley in the semi-finals – assuming Switzerland overcome Spain tonight, a match for which he is suspended – he will likely start the new season in Italy.
Reports have suggested Xhaka will join Roma for around £16million. He seems the the kind of player Jose Mourinho will either protect like a son or repeatedly and publicly castigate.
But there’s no more decorative shop window than a major tournament and the latest suggestions from Italy are that Juventus may try and hijack the Roma move.
Xhaka has also been linked with Paris Saint-Germain off the back of his France-busting performance.
If Switzerland, through to their first tournament quarter-final since 1954, do get a bit further, Arsenal could profit from a bidding war.
One booking too many means that Xhaka will miss the quarter-final with Spain on Friday
Not that his tournament has been entirely without controversy. Xhaka was criticised for going to get a tattoo – the name of his baby daughter Laneya, born in April, on his forearm – in Basel just before the tournament when players were meant to minimise Covid risk by staying at home.
He was then slammed by Swiss pundits for dying his hair blonde – having flown a hairdresser from Switzerland to Rome and much to his wife’s astonishment – after a poor performance in the team’s Euro opener against Wales, a 1-1 draw.
A post shared by Granit Xhaka (@granitxhaka)
Xhaka’s national team boss Vladimir Petkovic rallied to his defence – even joking he might get his grey hair dyed black – and that faith has been repaid.
The player’s first thought after Kylian Mbappe’s penalty was kept out by keeper Yann Sommer was to run to Petkovic and embrace him.
Earlier, it was Xhaka’s pinpoint pass that set up Mario Gavranovic to make it 3-3 in the dying seconds of normal time and his never-say-die spirit to carry Switzerland through was notable throughout.
They will certainly miss him against Spain but the tournament may not yet be over. Swiss optimism is high and this isn’t exactly a vintage Spain team.
Xhaka will never win over sceptical Arsenal fans now, but his place among his country’s legends is assured.
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