Take it with a pinch of salt, but Xherdan Shaqiri's arrival at the Chicago Fire has already gone better than his start to life in Lyon.
"I spoke with him last Saturday and just within the first two to three minutes, you could tell just how much this guy wanted to be here," manager Ezra Hendrickson said after the Fire announced the 30-year-old Switzerland international would be moving to Major League Soccer. "Just the excitement that you can hear in his voice, and wanting to really come here and really help this city and this club."
That's in stark contrast to his beginnings in France. Sources tell ESPN's Julien Laurens that Shaqiri wasn't all that keen on leaving Liverpool for Ligue 1. It was only after Lyon offered a long, lucrative contract that he agreed it would be a suitable destination to follow on from his Champions League and Premier League successes at Anfield.
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By the time negotiations concluded, many within OL already harbored suspicions that the mercurial attacker would not be the right fit for the club, and Shaqiri would soon prove them right. He got on with many in the dressing room, but was particularly close with Jerome Boateng, whom he played alongside at Bayern Munich between 2012 and 2015, and showed little interest in fostering 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 across Ligue 1 and the Europa League, he would register just two goals and three assists. He didn't see eye to eye with Lyon manager Peter Bosz and by the end of October, Shaqiri had lost his place in the team.
In short, he became a problem. Regardless of their rich history, Lyon could not afford to pay a player what they were paying Shaqiri and receive so little in return, not when they were fighting tooth and nail to remain relevant in a league becoming increasingly synonymous with the dominance of Paris Saint-Germain.
That's when Chicago called, offering to take his wages and pay a transfer fee that would more than recoup what OL sent to Liverpool to sign him in August. For Lyon, it was a blessing; for Shaqiri, it was a fresh start; for Chicago, it was a promise of hope.
"If you look at teams who have been successful recently and win championships, there's always that special player," Hendrickson said in February. "[New York City FC forward Valentin] Castellanos last year, a couple of years ago [Lucas] Zelerayan with us in Columbus, in Atlanta with Josef Martinez, and those guys like that.
"I think you need a player that can really be a game changer, who -- by the snap of the finger -- could change the game for you. Maybe it's an 89th-minute goal or maybe it's a special, spectacular free kick... what have you. I think that's something [Shaqiri] can bring to this team."
After three games in MLS, the stats don't necessarily bear that out. 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 stands at one key pass or assist every 24.5 minutes. That's nearly twice the rate he achieved at Lyon, and betters the 29.1-minutes-per-chance-created metric he recorded in a star-studded Liverpool attack.
"The Fire seem to have found a fitting role for the Swiss international," said Tor-Kristian Karlsen, a scout and executive, former CEO and sporting director at AS Monaco and ESPN contributor. "Shaqiri was originally an inverted right winger, and Hendrickson has rather cleverly started him in a free-roaming role behind the lone striker. From that central role, he can alternate between dropping deep to get on the ball early in the build-up while occasionally finding space higher up between the lines."
There are still reservations, though -- Karlsen notes Shaqiri has lost some of the energy that made him capable of so dutifully covering space in wide areas during his prime.
There are also questions of his endurance. In his final season at Anfield, Shaqiri played more than an hour in just seven of his 22 appearances. Was that entirely down to the limited opportunities in a team that features Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota? That's what Chicago is hoping.
According to the CIES Football Observatory, MLS is the ninth-most running-intensive league in the world, with teams covering an average of 101.1 kilometers per match. That number is 100.8 in the Premier League, the global average is 99.9 and Ligue 1 games average 98.6 km per game.
There's also the effect air travel has on player recovery. Chicago is one of the most centrally located teams in MLS, and yet three of its next five away trips -- Orlando, Atlanta and New York -- will require flights lasting two hours or more. Shaqiri had just one away trip with a flight time that long in his entire Lyon tenure.
Even if his stamina and speed have begun to desert him, and the notoriously challenging travel schedule in MLS will magnify that, there is still incredible upside to Shaqiri's game in Chicago. And Karlsen has liked what he's seen of Shaqiri's contributions so far.
"His vision to spot a runner, and technical ability to pinpoint the killer ball, have not left him," Karlsen said. "The somewhat less-hurried nature of the MLS game offers creative flair players like Shaqiri more time on the ball to invent and execute from the middle.
"As long as there's plenty of movement around him, the 30-year-old is a likely source of creativity whenever he gets on the ball."