Granit Xhaka was born in Basel in 1992. His Kosovar-Albanian family had moved to Switzerland from their home near Pristina, then part of Yugoslavia, to escape from ethnic conflict. His father Ragip had been arrested after a student demonstration against the government in Belgrade in 1986, and was imprisoned for three years. Granit began his football career at FC Basel, winning the Swiss Super League twice. He joined Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2012, and was made captain, aged 22. Granit Xhaka then moved to the English Premier League with Arsenal in May 2016.
Granit Xhaka was soon recognised as a gifted player. He was part of the Switzerland team that won the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2009. He won the first of more than 80 caps for the senior national team in 2011. Along with Xerdan Shaqiri, Granit played for Switzerland in the World Cup finals of 2014 in Brazil and 2018 in Russia. He won over 80 caps, probably with many more to come. At the international stage he played against his brother, an international player for Albania, at the European Championships in 2016.
Tensions in belonging
As Kosovo was approved by FIFA to compete for qualifications to the 2018 World Cup, there were speculations whether he would join the new national team and leave the Swiss side. Instead he confirmed his decision to stay with the Swiss squad, which was led by Vladimir Petković, himself a Sarajevo-born ethnic Croatian, naturalised Swiss citizen. During a high-profile game at the World Cup in Russia, Xhaka scored a match winning goal against Serbia, which he celebrated with a hand “eagle gesture”. This reference to the Albanian flag, and identity, was fined by FIFA “for unsporting behaviour contrary to the principles of fair-play”.
Granit Xhaka’s football life reflects an age of complex migrations in modern Europe. This began before he was born, when his father was imprisoned during the ethnic tensions that led to the break-up of Yugoslavia. Although safe in his new home in Switzerland and a key player for his national team, Granit’s football ambitions took him first to Germany and then to London. In the Bundesliga and the Premier League, he has had difficult relations with coaches and fans. Yet, he also has led the Swiss team to great success on the world stage, which, when defeating Serbia, took on a broader significance fueled by ethnic tensions.
What can be learned from Granit Xhaka’s story about football, migration and belonging?
Find out more
Go back to 2016 and find out in The Guardian how Granit’s relationship was with his brother in the run-up to the European Championship where the two brothers would meet each other, each playing for another country. Explore his international career profile on Wikipedia. Get a view by some football fans from the Russia World Cup about the controversial celebration on Associated Press. Listen to Xhaka talk some more about his private life in a short interview made by Arsenal. Finally, have a look at his interview with the Swiss Football Association (in German).