Xherdan Shaqiri has not been included in Liverpool’s travelling squad for Tuesday’s Champions League match at Red Star Belgrade, the Premier League club have announced.
The winger and and Switzerland team-mate Granit Xhaka caused a storm when they celebrated goals in the 2-1 win over Serbia at the summer’s World Cup in Russia by making an Albanian nationalist eagle symbol with their hands.
Shaqiri and Xhaka are both of Kosovan-Albanian descent and the incident, for which they were fined 10,000 Swiss francs (nearly £8,000) each by FIFA, threatened to inflame political tensions. Kosovo is a former Serbian province and Serbia does not recognise its independence.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said on the club’s official website on Monday: “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.”
Shaqiri started and played for 68 minutes of Liverpool’s 4-0 home win over Red Star on October 24.
UEFA banned the Serbian club from selling tickets to their fans for that game and their first away match in Group C, at Paris St Germain, as a punishment for trouble at August’s qualifying match at Salzburg, but the jeers that could be heard when Shaqiri was on the ball indicated that several had found their way inside Anfield.
The 27-year-old made it clear at that time he would not be requesting to miss the fixture in Belgrade, while Klopp said he would consider the matter in the coming days.
Also not part of the 21-man squad heading to Serbia are Jordan Henderson and Nathaniel Clyne (illness). Henderson will build up his fitness at Liverpool’s training ground following his recent hamstring issue and is set to be in contention for Sunday’s Premier League home match against Fulham.
Naby Keita, not involved in the last five games due to a hamstring problem of his own, and Dejan Lovren, who missed the 1-1 draw at Arsenal on Saturday, are both included.