“I feel a connection to Camden that takes me back to my childhood,” Xhaka says. “When Taulant and I were kids, we had our first trip on a bus from Basel to Pristina so that we could visit our grandparents for the first time. My mum and dad had full-time jobs and, on top of that, they worked at night as office cleaners, and they saved up the money for our tickets. The bus stopped in various places and I saw all of these markets, which Camden now reminds me of. There was also the market in Basel.
It is the story that has shaped Granit Xhaka and fuelled the fires that rage inside him. The details are savage, barely comprehensible, and it is a wonder that the Arsenal midfielder can articulate them. Then again, like his father, Ragip – who spent three and a half years as a political prisoner in Yugoslavia – Xhaka is not a man who runs or hides.
“As far as I know, his first few months in jail were OK,” Xhaka says. “But then the beatings started.”
Xhaka Sr’s crime had been to take part in demonstrations against the communist central government in Belgrade. It was 1986 and he was a 22-year-old student at the university of Pristina in Kosovo, which was then an autonomous province in Yugoslavia. He would be arrested and summarily given a six-year sentence. Xhaka Sr shared a cell with four other men and he would be let out once every day – for 10 minutes.
“As his son, the story is something that touches me very deeply – it is really, really in my heart,” Xhaka says. “To describe my dad properly, you have to appreciate the full depth of it. It’s so tragic. I sometimes ask him: ‘Tell it to me again,’ but I still don’t think he has revealed all of it. There have always been silent moments where I’ve felt he has swallowed something and not spilled out the truth. Maybe it was just too much and he wanted to spare his kids all the grief.