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How Kosovo Won the Champions League

Spectators of European top-level football are not really accustomed to spot the flag of Kosovo in international fixtures. This is not surprising, given the fact that the Football Federation of Kosovo has not obtained membership status with UEFA and is therefore not allowed to line up FC Prishtina, winner of the ‘Raiffeisen Superliga Kosove’ in Champions League qualifiers or a national team in any competition.

In December 2012 FIFA allowed its members in an official communiqué to

‘play international friendly games’ with Kosovo, but took care to specify –with regard to the protests from its member association Serbia – that ‘matches should not be played with national symbols (flags, national anthems, etc.) and that the authorisation was valid for youth, amateur, women and club football’.

As a result, migrant players that would be eligible for Kosovo have no choice but to join another national team. In a recent World Cup qualifier between Switzerland and Albania, a total of nine players of Kosovar origin were lined up (three and six respectively). One of them, quirky Bayern Munich midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, born to Albanian parents from Kosovo and grown up in Basel,  famously played with three little flags – Swiss, Albanian and Kosovar – sewn onto his boots. Despite his already 25 caps for Switzerland (at age 21!), he also was one of the signatories of an open letter to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, requesting the right to field a national team.

Against this backdrop of demand of recognition it is no wonder that this year’s Champions League final at Wembley between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich was another opportunity for Shaqiri to highlight his complicated allegiances and loyalties. Well visible in front of the world’s cameras, he did a short lap of honour with both the Swiss and the Kosovar flag and later managed to pose with both in front of the European trophy. Between the two pictures, he had shaken the hand of Angela Merkel who, just before kick-off, had served German television the old triviality according to which ‘football should never be instrumentalised for political purposes’. As if her presence (even if based on a credible love for the game) was not yet another evidence for the inevitable political dimension of international football…

In a relatively short lapse of time it has become quite a habit for many foreign players to celebrate important victories of their clubs waving the flag of their nation of origin. Shaqiri was not the only one of the Bayern squad to do so. Spectators of this apparently ‘all-German’ final in Wembley also had the opportunity to become acquainted with the Ukrainian, Dutch, Croatian, Brazilian and Peruvian colours, and even the flag of Navarra flung around the waist of Javi Martinez (and for which he received some bashing on Spanish nationalist websites). But none of the players went as far as Shaqiri in showcasing not only double but multiple identities. 

Very clearly, not only professional club sides have become increasingly multinational in the wake of the famous Bosman ruling of the European Court of Justice in 1995, but so have a growing number of European citizens! Football, as an easily accessible and universally practiced sport, has always provided an opportunity for social mobility, especially to individuals with migrant backgrounds. And a wonderful stage for the public display of identities, however complicated these may be.

 

Albrecht Sonntag, Centre for European Integration, ESSCA School of Management, Angers.



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