Xherdan Shaqiri: Success is sweet for Kosovo-born Switzerland star

    Xherdan Shaqiri committed to Switzerland
    Xherdan Shaqiri committed to Switzerland

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    (CNN)Swiss confectionery is renowned around the world for its quality and finesse, not for manufacturing delicious footballing talent.

    But in the case of Xherdan Shaqiri, the mold was broken.
    A star of the 2014 World Cup, where he was one of just two players to score a hat-trick, the Inter Milan wideman knows the taste of success better than most.
      "When I played for the Basel youth team, I also worked in a sweet shop," the 23-year-old told CNN.
      "I always had the dream to play football but when I was young, my father and mother told me I must learn something. It was right at the beginning (of my career) when I started and worked.
      "I was really proud to work there for two years because I know how it is to work normally, so I know real life -- and the life that I have now."
      The contrast between the two is enormous, with Shaqiri now earning more in a week than most confectioners do in a year.
      But there's another, and fundamentally more serious, way in which he can appreciate the nature of his current existence.
      He was born to Kosovar Albanian parents in 1991 in Giljan, a city that is now part of Kosovo but was then contained within the Yugoslav Republic.
      Eight years later, Serb forces controlled by Slobodan Milosevic launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Kosovar Albanians -- resulting in at least 10,000 deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands.
      Thankfully for Shaqiri, his parents' smart thinking meant he was far from the atrocities as Yugoslavia slid into civil war, since his family had moved to Switzerland the year after his birth.
      The footballer is eternally grateful to his adopted nation for providing his family (he has three siblings) with a safe environment in which to grow up, and he praises his fellow schoolchildren for the ease of his integration into Swiss society.
      His upbringing has resulted in a multi-faceted linguistic and cultural approach to life, which is perhaps best encapsulated by Shaqiri having previously stitched the flags of Switzerland, Albania and Kosovo into his boots.
      "I was born in Kosovo, my parents are from Kosovo but I [grew up] in Switzerland," he said.
      "I live the Swiss mentality but the Kosovo mentality too because when I go home, I speak Albanian. I live both mentalities so for me, it's not a big difference."
      Save for one.
      "Time is the big difference. Swiss guys are always exactly on time, but Albanians are not like this," he jokes.
      Dual Identity
      However, his roots are no laughing matter and the Swiss has taken a lead role in trying to enable the land of his birth to play international football matches.
      In 2012, Shaqiri signed a petition -- along with two fellow Swiss-Kosovars, Granit Xhaka and Valeron Behrami -- pledging support for the official recognition of a Kosovo national team, which was then sent to FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
      To cut a long story short, the move worked to a certain extent when FIFA authorized Kosovo to play friendlies against member nations -- even though Kosovo itself is not a full FIFA member.
      To do so, it needs to be part of its regional confederation -- in this case, UEFA.
      UEFA rules require United Nations membership before admitting a country yet Kosovo is unlikely to achieve that status as long as Russia retains its veto power by virtue of being a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
      This is because Russia is an ally of Serbia which continues to claim Kosovo as part of its own sovereign territory, even if the latter declared independence in 2008.
      If Kosovo had been an option when Shaqiri was pledging his international future, one suspects he would have played for them.
      "I love Kosovo but at the moment they can't play, so it's only Switzerland for me," said a player famed for his speed, vision and his ability with both feet.
      "I feel very happy to give back to Switzerland what it has given me and my family, but in the future I don't know what will happen."
      At the 2014 World Cup, he scored a hat trick against Honduras as the Swiss won their final group game 3-0 to reach the knockout stages for only the third time since the 1950s.
      But it was a qualifier for the tournament in Brazil that will also stick in Shaqiri's mind as he played for Switzerland, along with Xhaka and Behrami, against Albania in 2012 -- with the stocky midfielder scoring in a 2-0 win.
      He did not celebrate however and left the field with an Albanian, rather than Swiss, jersey draped over his shoulders -- a routine occurrence after most games, but one that took on greater symbolism on this occasion.
      In modern Europe, dual nationality is not uncommon, especially in Swtizerland. Fifteen of their 23-man World Cup squad had foreign links and six were born outside of the country.
      "Whether players are from Albania or Yugoslavia is not important," he says. "What's important is to be a team on the pitch."
      Medal Detector
      At the relatively tender age of 23, Shaqiri has a trophy haul that would be the envy of many long standing professionals.
      In fact, this year will be the first since he turned pro in 2009 that Shaqiri will end the season without a league winners' medal.
      That comes after three championships and two cups with Basel (2009-2012) and back-to-back league and cup doubles with Bayern (2012-14), where he also won the Champions League and Club World Cup.
      Even though Inter have exited all cup competitions and trail league leaders Juventus by 30 points, Shaqiri has no regrets about his decision to join the two-time European champions.
      "I wanted to know a new mentality -- this was important for me -- so I was very happy that Inter and the coach wanted me," he said.
      "I'm also near to my family. Switzerland is very near and this is a very important reason for me -- to have my family always near."
      "(Inter coach) Roberto Mancini has a wealth of experience and has come here to return Inter to where the club was, so I think we'll be back in the front of Italy and Europe in future."
      Starved of success this year, that would be a most welcome treat.