Xherdan Shaqiri has been in excellent form of late but the attacking midfielder will not be involved in Liverpool’s Champions League clash against Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday night.
The 27-year-old has been left at home by Liverpool because they want to “avoid any distractions” that may be caused by Shaqiri’s Albanian heritage.
Shaqiri, an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, was fined £7,362 by FIFA in the summer after celebrating a goal for Switzerland against Serbia by making a double-headed eagle gesture - symbolising the Albanian flag.
There were fears Shaqiri would be targeted if he travelled to Serbia with the Liverpool squad - and Jurgen Klopp has decided the best course of action is to omit him from the squad.
"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," Klopp told reporters.
"We are keen to be respectful and keen to avoid any distractions. So, for that reason, Shaq is not involved and he accepts and understands this."
Klopp’s decision is certainly understandable and makes a lot of sense. He doesn’t need to worry about Shaqiri’s safety and can concentrate solely on football matters.
However, the well-travelled football journalist James Montague - who wrote an article about Shaqiri for the New York Times following ‘Eaglegate’ in the summer - has raised an interesting point about Liverpool’s decision on Twitter.
“So Liverpool omit Shaqiri from the trip to Belgrade tomorrow,” he tweeted. “Unless it's based on any specific intelligence this is a terrible decision by Liverpool.
“It sets a bad precedent and it reflects badly on Red Star and Serbia too.”
It does indeed set a bad precedent. Intimidation tactics have clearly worked here and prevented Shaqiri from doing his job, which simply isn’t right.
Montague added that, in his opinion, nothing would have happened to Shaqiri even if he had played in the match.
“No way in hell Zvezda [Red Star] (or the government) would allow anything to happen on such a big stage,” he continued. “If anything I think the decision not to play him will sour things more.”
Montague also understands that Shaqiri *did* want to play in this fixture but has now been denied the opportunity to do so.
It’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for Shaqiri in this situation.
Liverpool, meanwhile, are forced to make do with a £13 million signing because they fear for his safety.
It's a strange and unfortunate situation all around.
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