For those of you who don’t follow football, you may not be aware that in the past few days some hotly-debated news came out from Liverpool FC who may a bold call to leave summer signing Xherdan Shaqiri out of the squad to fly to Serbia for a Champions League fixture.
On the surface, this looks like a straight footballing decision, right?
If you delve deeper and understand why this has happened, you’d understand why this has become a talking point and why, I think, this is an important issue from a communications perspective.
For those of you who don’t know who Shaqiri is and why he’s suddenly become a hot topic of discussion in the media then let me explain the story.
Kosovo-born Shaqiri, who plays his international football for Switzerland, was left behind by his club Liverpool as they travelled to Serbia to play Red Star Belgrade at the Rajko Mitic Stadium, a reputably hostile place and not somewhere for the faint-hearted.
Liverpool’s boss Jurgen Klopp admitted that politics had played a role in his decision to omit the midfielder after the 27-year-old incensed Serbia following his winning goal against them at the World Cup.
Shaqiri celebrated by forming a double-headed eagle with his hands – as seen on the Albanian flag, who fought against the Serbs in the Kosovo war, and he also sported a Kosovo flag on his boots.
This infuriated the Serbians and prompted a complaint from their FA. Shaqiri was subsequently booed by Red Star supporters who had travelled to Liverpool.
You can now only imagine the reception he would get if he was picked to play in Belgrade.
The decision to leave him at home sparked some debate both in the media and on social platforms.
But from a communications and PR perspective, it must be seen as the right move to make.
Not only is this an issue surrounding Shaqiri’s safety but it’s also a sensitive political issue and the repercussions of handling this badly could have long-lasting damage for all parties involved.
It made perfect sense, as Klopp put it “to cool the situation down”, and credit has to be given to the club and manager for making this calculated decision. It would have been tough for them in a footballing sense, sure, Shaqiri is a top-class player but this is bigger than just one football match.
Many Liverpool fans have criticised Klopp for leaving Shaqiri behind, especially since the Reds were beaten 2-0, but if they stepped away from the football side, they’d realise it was the correct call.
Hypothetically, if Shaqiri had scored and repeated the celebration, then there wouldn’t just be uproar in the stands but also on the pitch, as many of Red Star’s players are be Serbian – there is a high chance that the scenes would be ugly.
This would become global news and the sanctions for each club and players involved would be severe – games played behind closed doors, players banned from the competition and hefty fines handed out are just some of the punishments which could occur.
Worse so, both clubs’ reputations would be tarnished by a political issue which was easily avoidable.
The score on the pitch may not have been what they wanted but the decision to keep Shaqiri at home was shrewd and despite the result, it’s a PR win for Liverpool.