Granit Xhaka: Bayer Leverkusen’s Swiss Metronome in Midfield

Granit Xhaka has been battling against the tide of perception his whole career. Whilst he eventually jabbed, jibed, and gesticulated his way into the hearts of Arsenal fans, this wasn’t how he envisioned it. A graceful midfielder, with a range of passes and emotions. He was distilled into the lazy hardman image to fit a narrative. Quick to the tackle, quick to the boil.


Arsenal, more style than substance in the early 2010s, had been crying out for a battle-hardened midfielder when they acquired Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach in 2016. Slicked back hair, stocky build, and straight talking, Xhaka fit the bill. Yet contrary to popular opinion, there was more style to the substance.



Now, doubtless, Xhaka more than played up to the character of the pantomime villain. Public spats with fans, an array of red cards from the reckless to the ridiculous.  But underneath all the bravado was a player who wanted to get hold of the ball and create. He filled a role at Arsenal, he’s fulfilling a dream at Bayer Leverkusen. 


Leverkusen became the first team in European history to go 49 games unbeaten with a dramatic 97th-minute equaliser against Roma in the UEFA Conference League, and Xhaka was front and centre as the newly crowned German champions staged yet another miraculous comeback at the Bay Arena. 


He produced 10 chances from open play, matching a Europa League record set by Juan Mata more than a decade ago, as Leverkusen progressed to the Europa League final keeping their chances of an unbeaten treble alive. No player has produced more final third passes in Europe’s top five leagues this season than Xhaka. The 31-year-old has shown a level of measure in and out of possession that’s allowed his creative instincts to flourish.


So often the villain of the piece, Xhaka is a hero to thousands of Leverkusen fans after guiding them to the first Bundesliga title in their history. Xhaka took a risk, leaving an Arsenal team who are on the up and may well end their own title hoodoo this season. But he has been more than vindicated in his decision to move to Leverkusen, with Xabi Alonso’s side on course to continue breaking records this season. 



Xhaka has started all but one game this season, earning the trust of Alonso, who views him as a leader within his squad despite only arriving last summer.  Alonso is set to stay at Leverkusen next season, and whilst many are waiting on the bubble to burst, consistency has underpinned all their good work this season, and it appears this continuity will persist for at least another season with Leverkusen looking to capitalise on arguably the most remarkable season in European club history. 


The Switzerland captain has trusted in his ability and his application and changed perceptions. Many saw his move to Leverkusen as a recognition that he wasn’t up to the standard needed for Arsenal to push on. Xhaka, though, has defied this belief, and whether or not Arsenal wins the league in the next couple of weeks, Xhaka has already eclipsed the efforts of his former teammates by trusting in the player he is and not the player he has been portrayed as by so many. 


By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS

Featured Image: @Juanffrann / James Williamson – AMA