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May 27, 2013

How Kosovo won the Champions League final

Spectators of European top-level football are not really accustomed to spot the flag of Kosovo in Champions League 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 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 the Wembley final 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 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.

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Apart from this surprise to see Kosovo make it into the Champions League final and onto the hallowed soil of Wembley, I had the pleasure to see that the event very nicely corroborated what had been written in three previous blog posts on this site:

First, a quick non-representative survey of the European print media on Sunday revealed that hardly anyone had given in to the ‘tempting parallels’ between German ‘hegemony’ in European politics and football. Even the German ‘invasion’ of London was observed with a remarkable resistance to the usual puns and allusions.

Secondly, even after this final, as pointed out in the post ‘Model Bavaria’ from one month ago, there are still plenty of reasons not to like Bayern, but it’s difficult not to admire at least Bavarian football.

And, finally, in a nice ironic twist, Georg Friedrich Händel’s coronation hymn was coming home to London where it was composed in 1727. Very appropriate for an all-German final (a lot more appropriate anyway than the ridiculous pseudo-medieval pre-match ceremony…). One may not like this neo-baroque anthem, but twenty years after the first final which it introduced, it remains a crucial part of the Champions League brand identity.

Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Competitions, Identities, Posts - No Comment

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