Liverpool have left Xherdan Shaqiri out of their squad to face Serbian side Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League on Tuesday because they want to “avoid any distractions” that may be caused by the midfielder’s Albanian heritage.
Shaqiri, 27, is an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, where a Serbian crackdown on the Albanian population ended with Nato military intervention in 1999.
After scoring for Switzerland against Serbia this summer, he celebrated by making a double-headed eagle gesture, which symbolises the Albanian flag.
He was fined £7,632 by Fifa for the celebration, which happened during a World Cup group-stage match.
“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,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.
“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 added Liverpool “have no political message” and want the focus to be on the game “free from anything else”.
Shaqiri, who started Liverpool’s 4-0 home win over Red Star last month, was born in Yugoslavia and was still a child when his family emigrated to Switzerland.
He joined the Reds from Stoke in the summer after they triggered his £13m release clause.
Speaking last month about the reception he may receive in Belgrade, he said: “I had this already at the World Cup so I know I can handle this no problem.
“It is not about politics, it is about football. I worry about nothing and go to play.”
Liverpool go into Tuesday’s game top of their Champions League group.