Granit Xhaka says he is targeting a return for club and country and reiterated his call for players and supporters to return to a place of mutual respect claiming the team’s spirit has been weakened by the abuse he received.
Since reacting angrily to being jeered off by his own fans against Crystal Palace, the 27-year-old has been left out of four consecutive matchday squads by Unai Emery and, earlier this week, was stripped of the club’s captaincy. He’s since been tipped to leave the club in January.
In an interview with Swiss publication Blick, granted ahead of his country’s European Championship qualifiers with Georgia and Gibraltar, the midfielder reflected on the abuse he received before, during and after the game with Crystal Palace both from match-going supporters and his followers on social media.
“You could say things have been a bit frantic,” he said. “Last week, in particular, was a very special emotional experience for me. But I’m doing very well again, I’ve trained well this week and am looking forward to my next assignments. In the club and of course on the national team.
“When my shirt number lit up on the fourth official’s panel and our own fans broke into gleeful jubilation, that hit me very hard and really upset me. It was very hurtful and frustrating. I can’t understand a reaction like that even now, especially the vehemence of it and the extreme hostility directed against me.
He went on: “As far back as I can remember, fans have always been part of my sport. And right from the start, I’ve had a lot of respect for the fans’ enthusiasm and the hardships they endure to support us players.
“Their criticism, when it’s fair, makes you grow as an athlete. And the power and energy that they contribute to the game makes every athlete love football even more. I feel like I’m part of a big football family. But at a time you are already experiencing a lot of hostility and your own football family insults you, it hurts a lot.
“I don’t mean to say that I can’t take criticism. If the team and I don’t play well, we have to listen and work on it. But insulting and swearing at your own captain will cause upset and a bad atmosphere for the team you are actually supposed to be supporting. That makes no sense to me and weakens the team’s spirit.”
Xhaka also touched on the abuse he receives on social media, a theme he highlighted in a statement he released this time last week.
“For me, my platforms offer the chance to let my fans be a part of my athletic career and my private life, to ‘follow’ me in the truest sense. What used to be fan mail is now much more up-to-date and closer to life due to Instagram and all the rest.
“I think that’s really great. But this opportunity is also a double-edged sword, as I have now learned. There really are people who make a hobby out of insulting people every day. This even goes so far as to be criticised for things you haven’t even done. People are abusing me because of the way I played last weekend, but I wasn’t even on the pitch. It’s insane!”
On the reaction he had to his statement, he added: “I got a lot of positive feedback, especially from the sports scene, both from players and coaches. And also from a lot of Arsenal fans from all over the world.
“This shows me that I have addressed an important point here and that it was the right decision to show my emotions as well. This has been well received and understood by the footballing community. I’m very glad about that.”
For all the negativity of the last few weeks, Xhaka insists that he’s enjoyed his time in London and continues to do so.
“For me, looking back it’s been very positive for a long time,” he said. “After a difficult start, I played a lot and overall I’ve had a great time at Arsenal. My family and I also feel very well in the city of London. The events of the last week don’t change that at all. I’ll continue to stay positive, give my all to an even greater extent and prove that I’m an important part of this great team.”
It’s worth pointing out that at no point in this interview does Xhaka address his own reaction to supporters, which included cupping his ear to the crowd, mouthing obscenities and then traipsing straight down the tunnel with his shirt off.
You can read the full interview (you might need Google Translate), here.