Liverpool have confirmed that Xherdan Shaqiri will not be among their travelling party on their trip to play Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League this week.
With concerns over the kind of reception Shaqiri, who was born in Kosovo, would receive in Serbia, the club have decided to take the winger out of the equation all together in a bid to avoid any unnecessary tension.
Following on from decades of warfare and hostility in the region, Kosovo’s independence as a state is not recognised by the Serb government. Shaqiri has made a point of celebration his heritage in the past, incurring a fine from FIFA for making an ‘Albanian eagle’ hand symbol after scoring for Switzerland against Serbia at the World Cup in the summer.
To hopefully rule out the prospect of any possible retribution, Reds manager Jurgen Klopp stepped in and made the call.
In a message posted on the club’s official website, Klopp explained thus:
It’s a situation where we will go to the fantastic city of Belgrade as a football team to play football.
We have heard and read the speculation and talk about what kind of reception Shaq would receive and although we have no idea what would happen, we want to go there and be focused 100 per cent on football and not have to think about anything else, that’s all.
We are Liverpool FC, a big club, a football team but we don’t have any message further than that. We have no political message, absolutely not. We want the focus to be on a great game of football, free from anything else.
We are keen to be respectful and keen to avoid any distractions that would take focus away from a 90-minute-plus contest that is important for football and only football.
So for that reason, Shaq is not involved and he accepts and understands this. Shaq is our player, we love him, and he will play for us a lot of times, but not on Tuesday.
I have heard so many wonderful things about the city of Belgrade, and the country of Serbia as a whole, from friends and colleagues who’ve visited before, so now I’m really looking forward to taking Liverpool there for a great game of Champions League football.
Precisely what FIFA of UEFA intend to do about a footballer being made to feel unwelcome in one of their member nations due to his ethnicity remains to be seen.
Klopp also confirmed that while Jordan Henderson is still ruled out, Naby Keita and Dejan Lovren will be returning to his squad for the Red Star trip having recovered from their respective injuries in time to pass muster.