Xhaka's near-perfect season continues with Switzerland

Granit Xhaka playing for Switzerland

This season could not have gone much better for Granit Xhaka and now, after another stellar showing in Switzerland's last-16 win against Italy, this could be the perfect opportunity to lead his country to Euro 2024 success.

After an unbeaten domestic campaign with Bayer Leverkusen – resulting in a first Bundesliga title in their 120-year history - he has arrived at Euro 2024 with an elevated confidence.

The midfielder made his mark on the tournament picking up man of the match awards in Switzerland’s opening victory over Hungary and their crucial 1-1 draw with Germany.

He then orchestrated a superb Swiss performance from midfield as his side knocked out defending champions Italy to earn a quarter-final spot, and a potential meeting with England.

However, despite being Switzerland's all-time appearance record holder, Xhaka's international career has been a divisive one with more downs than ups.

Expectations are high in Switzerland and they are looking to Xhaka to captain his side to victory and fulfil the potential he has shown only in patches so far.

"Success brings confidence. It’s been an important challenge - the one I had to have this season [at Bayer Leverkusen]," said Xhaka at the start of the tournament.

"It’s a pleasure to be working there every day as a footballer. It hasn’t been a perfect season because we lost the Europa League final. But now is a new challenge."

'Last chance to be successful with Switzerland'

Xhaka's impressive season with Leverkusen, where he played a vital role in Xabi Alonso's title-winning midfield, raised eyebrows back home.

Local journalists described it as the "best season of his career" and were optimistic he could translate his club form onto the international stage.

Swiss journalist Laurent Ducret, who writes for Keystone-SDA, told BBC Sport it was Xhaka's "last chance to be successful with Switzerland" at Euro 2024.

"He looked very good in the warm-up games before the Euros but he has not shown his best level with Switzerland, always playing better for his club," added Ducret.

That is a view widely shared among supporters.

Asked if Xhaka had delivered for Switzerland so far, Aural, a fan from Geneva who was in Frankfurt for the group stages, said: "No way, no chance. Not yet."

But journalists and fans still see hope in Xhaka, with Aural claiming they "would make him a statue" if he takes Switzerland all the way to the final in Germany.

So far, he has certainly stepped up to the plate, dominating in midfield and demonstrating his leadership as Switzerland progressed from their group with ease.

"I thought Xhaka was really good all night," Leicester defender Conor Coady told BBC Two after Switzerland's draw with Germany.

"He was brilliant in the way he managed the midfield. With the season he’s had, he’s coming into the tournament with huge confidence anyway.

"Having him in front of the back five, marshalling people, getting across the pitch and up to the box… I just thought he was brilliant."

Aside from an underwhelming display against Scotland, Xhaka has been one of the standout performers in the tournament.

While Xhaka appreciates acknowledgement for his individual form, he is excited by his team's progression.

"I’m not a big fan of numbers or individual trophies [like the man of the match awards], let’s say that," said Xhaka.

"For sure it’s makes me happy, I will not lie about this, but what makes me more happy is the team, how they work for each other and the level we are playing.

"Six months ago we were not nearly where we are today. Our training intensity is much higher than it was before. The quality is much better.

"Nobody knows before the morning of the game who is starting. This is what makes us stronger. I’m happy to be a part of this team."

'He came here with confidence'

Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri
Only Granit Xhaka (left) has made more appearances for Switzerland than Xherdan Shaqiri (right) [Getty Images]

Xhaka's career has been riddled with criticism and controversy, including his time at Arsenal, where his temperament was questioned and he was stripped of the captaincy after being booed by home fans in a draw with Crystal Palace.

A similar trend has followed for his country, with consistent exits in the last-16 stages of major tournaments - including a penalty shootout defeat by Poland in 2016, when Xhaka was the only player to miss his spot kick.

Speculation rose in 2018 that Xhaka could switch his allegiance to represent Kosovo and the decision to award him the Switzerland armband has been questioned by former players, including ex-Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz.

But in recent years, Xhaka has turned a corner, performing consistently for Switzerland and proving to be a mainstay in their midfield.

He has the support of his team-mates and there is a growing belief he is finally delivering his best football for Switzerland.

Now, here in Germany where he has just enjoyed the best season of his career, could Xhaka be the one to inspire Switzerland to glory?

"I hope so, yes. He had a very good season with Leverkusen and I’m happy that he finally won a title in Germany," forward Xherdan Shaqiri told BBC Sport.

"He came here with more confidence - he has already a lot of confidence - but he came with even more. I’m happy for him.

"He pushes the players and I hope he can take this forwards. The national team maybe [puts] more pressure on him now and he has to deal with that.

"But I am very happy he won this title with Leverkusen and hopefully he can keep going like this."