Liverpool travelled to Serbia today ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League tie against Red Star Belgrade and, after days of questions and speculation, it was confirmed that Xherdan Shaqiri would not join his teammates on the trip.
“We have heard and read the speculation and talk,” manager Jürgen Klopp noted. “We have no idea what would happen, but we want to go there and focus 100% on the football and to not have to think about anything else, that’s all.
“We are Liverpool FC, a big club, a football team. We don’t have any message further than that. We are keen to be respectful and keen to avoid distractions so for that reason, Shaq is not involved and he accepts and understands this.”
Over the summer, Xherdan Shaqiri caused a brief stir when, while representing Switzerland at the World Cup, he flashed a ‘double eagle’ celebration against Serbia after scoring a late winner in group play and angering many in Serbia.
Shaqiri, an ethnic Albanian, grew up in the Balkans during a time of violence, persecution, and ethic cleansing that saw the Serbians as primary aggressors in the region and forced the player’s family to flee to Switzerland as refugees.
His reaction after scoring a late winner—after being targeted for abuse the entire game by Serbian fans—was understandable. Many Liverpool fans cheered it. Some might even have welcomed him scoring and celebrating similarly on Tuesday.
Beyond any potential for a reaction from the stands targeting Shaqiri, though—whether or not he scored or celebrated—the club will have considered the potential for travelling Liverpool fans to be targeted if the situation deteriorated.
Leaving Shaqiri behind, then, is likely less about keeping the focus on the game and more about minimising the potential for a violent incident in reaction to his presence, which is disappointing if understandable from the club’s perspective.
“Shaq is our player,” Klopp added. “We love him, and he will play for us a lot of times, but not on Tuesday. I have heard wonderful things about the city of Belgrade, so now I’m really looking forward to taking Liverpool there.”