Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admits leaving Xherdan Shaqiri at home was a decision he never expected to make but has defended the controversial move ahead of the Champions League match against Red Star Belgrade in Serbia.
The 27-year-old forward, whose parents are Kosovar-Albanian, was born in the former Yugoslav city of Gjilan which is now part of Kosovo, a state Serbia still refuses to recognise despite its declaration of independence in 2008.
Shaqiri angered Serbia fans in a match at the World Cup wearing boots featuring the Kosovo flag and making an ‘Albanian Eagle’ celebration and was certain to receive a hostile welcome in Belgrade.
For that reason Klopp said a pragmatic decision was taken to leave the player at home to allow the focus to remain on football.
“I constantly have to make decisions that I never expected before. I was confronted with that and that is the decision. That is all,” he said.
“Absolutely not aware of any security issues or whatever. The only thing that I can say about it was that it was common sense. It was common sense to just make the decision, not to force anything.
“We come here wanting to play football. If he came here now and was involved then all the questions would be about him. That makes no sense.
“We have to concentrate on football. We have to focus on football. That’s what we want to do and that is why I made that decision.”
Locally Klopp’s decision has been viewed as a sensible move, with tensions likely to have run high at the Rajko Mitic Stadium had Shaqiri appeared.
It did not prevent Klopp having to field a number of questions about the Switzerland international, whom he said fully accepted his decision.
Asked what the player’s reaction was the Reds boss said: “‘OK, boss’.
“I will not make it ‘Shaqiri said’ or ‘wanted’ actually. That makes no sense. It makes no sense for you and it makes no sense for him. That’s why. He said, ‘Ok, boss’.
“It was a difficult situation if you want, usually you don’t think about things like that before a game but we had to think about it. That was the decision and with the decision the discussion ended at that moment for us.”
Klopp admits he did not want anything to inflame the atmosphere but accepts by leaving out the player he intensified the debate, at least in the pre-match build-up. Maybe if Shaq would have played they (the crowd) go for him or whatever, I don’t know, but I didn’t think that far,” Klopp added.
“I didn’t want to have the discussion we are having now before the game.”
As Group C leaders, with Napoli and Paris St Germain playing each other, Liverpool could take a big step towards qualification with a win against Red Star.
“It would help massively, of course. That is how it is. I don’t think about the other game but it is obvious they play against each other so they both can’t get three points. If we could win here tomorrow it would give us a bit of control.”