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Xherdan Shaqiri won’t play against Red Star Belgrade and politics will never be separate from sport

The Kosovo-born midfielder' omission caps off quite the week for politics in sport

In many people’s perfect world, sport and politics exist independently from each other.

In reality, they will forever be entwined.

Xherdan Shaqiri has been left at home for Liverpool’s trip to play Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League.

Given the day off

PA:Press Association
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Given the day off

The 27-year-old featured in the Reds’ 4-0 win over the same opponents at Anfield last month and many would have identified the fixture as a good opportunity for the former Stoke midfielder to get some more minutes under his belt.

But Jurgen Klopp has been forced to consider political tensions as a factor when selecting his squad.

This a rare scenario, but one still too common — Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan was not welcome in Azerbaijan for Arsenal’s Europa League trip to Qarabag earlier this season.

Kosovo-born Shaqiri stoked the flames between the people of his homeland and the Serbian public during the World Cup.

He celebrated a 90th-minute winner against Serbia by making the symbol of a two-headed eagle with his hands — an image which features on the Albanian flag.

This gesture cost him £7,500 in fines

Reuters
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This gesture cost him £7,500 in fines

Albania fought against Serbia during the Kosovo war and helped Kosovo officially gain independence in 2008.

Many Serbians still do not recognise Kosovo as a country, such is the ill-will between the two sides.

Hence the potential combustibility between Shaqiri and Red Star Belgrade fans.

Klopp spoke openly about the situation at the pre-game press conference: “We need to cool the situation down.

“We are in Serbia, we respect that 100%. That’s how the world is.

“Politics always has influence on life, on the life I live at least, and that’s how it is.”

Safety first

EPA
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Safety first

There is a benefit to omitting Shaqiri beyond safety of course.

The Swiss international’s presence would have ignited a partisan crowd capable of producing one of the most intimidating atmospheres in world football.

Such factors can have a negative affect on a player’s concentration, motivation, etc.

Red Star conceded ten goals in two games against PSG and Liverpool.

Without intervening factors (such as atmosphere), they are no match for Klopp’s side.

So it makes sense the German would take the necessary precautions to aid his team.

Red Star fans’ typical welcome

Reuters
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Red Star fans’ typical welcome

Sport, like art, is a reflection of life.

Footballers are some of the most famous people on Earth and this fame gives them enormous platforms to communicate with the public.

It is inevitable that political factors leak into the game, no matter how much some wish players would ‘stick to football’.

Shaqiri knew full well that when he made the eagle symbol at the World Cup, he was briefly the primary focus of the most-watched event in the world at the time.

Such temptation is difficult to resist.

Quite the week for politics in sport…

Reuters
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Quite the week for politics in sport…

Other than Shaqiri’s omission, the hateful reactions to James McClean and Nemanja Matic’s decision to not wear a poppy have further reminded us all of politics’ relationship with football.

It is naive to hope for a future in which the pair will be separate.

As long as football exists, politics will interfere.


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