Xherdan Shaqiri has been left out of Liverpool’s squad for the Champions League match against Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday.
During the World Cup in Russia earlier this year Shaqiri scored in Switzerland’s 2-1 win over Serbia in Kaliningrad and then crossed his hands to make a double eagle gesture, widely interpreted as paying homage to Albania’s flag.
World governing body FIFA subseqently fined Shaqiri $10,133 for “unsporting behavior contrary to the principles of fair-play” for his celebration.
“It’s a situation where we will go to the fantastic city of Belgrade as a football team to play football,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp told the club’s website.
“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% on football and not have to think about anything else, that’s all.”
READ: Swiss duo’s ‘provocative’ black eagle goal celebration ‘mixes sport and politics’
Shaqiri, who joined Liverpool from Stoke for in July in a $16.9 million transfer, has Kosovar heritage. Born in the former Yugoslav city of Gjilan, now part of Kosovo, Shaqiri left when he was four years old.
“Personally I can’t imagine that an Albanian will play for Red Star,” Red Star’s general director Zvezdan TerzicTerzic told Belgrade newspaper Kurir after the club was drawn in Liverpool’s Champions League group with Napoli and Paris Saint-Germain.
“I think that Shaqiri will be under unbelievable psychological pressure because he will know where he is coming; he knows that the Red Star is a symbol of Serbia and … I don’t know whether he will play.
“Of course, as a football club we treat our rivals equally and we do not have to deal with the past and the history.
“Red Star must do everything to make Shaqiri feel that he came to play football and it is our duty to protect him in the case of unwanted situations. Let’s be good hosts.”
So far this season, Klopp has primarily used Shaqiri as a substitute. The Swiss international has scored one goal in 10 appearances.
“We are Liverpool FC, a big club, a football team but we don’t have any message further than that,” added Klopp. “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.”