London: Xherdan Shaqiri has been left out of Liverpool’s travelling squad for Tuesday’s Champions League match against Red Star Belgrade, the Premier League club have announced.
The midfielder was at the centre of controversy along with Switzerland teammate Granit Xhaka when they celebrated goals with a pro-Kosovo “double eagle” gesture that represents the Albanian flag during the World Cup win over Serbia in Russia.
The double-eagle is viewed as a symbol of defiance in Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 in a move that Serbia still refuses to recognise.
The players’ double eagle celebration caused outrage in Serbia and Arsenal midfielder Xhaka and Shaqiri, both of Kosovan-Albanian descent, were fined by Fifa.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said: “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.”
Klopp added: “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.”
Shaqiri started Liverpool’s 4-0 home win over Red Star on October 24.
Liverpool top Champions League Group C with six points, one ahead of Napoli and two clear of Paris St-Germain, with Red Star at the bottom.
Naby Keita and Dejan Lovren are among those who will make the trip after recovering from injuries.
Jordan Henderson will not travel as he works on his fitness following a hamstring injury, while Nathaniel Clyne misses out due to illness.
“We will take pretty much everyone,” said Klopp. “Clyney is ill and will not be involved, but Dejan and Naby are back in the travelling squad.
“Hendo was close, but not close enough. He needs two proper sessions for his fitness. He and Clyney should both be fine for the weekend.”