By 90Min
November 18, 2017

Arsenal and Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka is one of the hardest tacklers in the Premier League, and his passion is quite apparent whenever he's on the pitch.

He says it's his father's story that has made him the man he is, but it still touches him to this day, especially when he goes to Camden Market; which reminds him of his childhood.

Xhaka's father, Ragip, was sentenced to six years in prison in 1986 after participating in demonstrations against the communist central government in Belgrade. He only spent three-and-a-half years behind bars, but it wasn't an easy time as he shared a cell with four other prisoners and was only let out once a day for just 10 minutes.

“As far as I know, his first few months in jail were OK,” Xhaka told The Guardian in an exclusive interview. “But then the beatings started. As his son, the story is something that touches me very deeply – it is really, really in my heart.

PAUL ELLIS/GettyImages

“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.

“He was a proud Kosovarian and he thought they had a right to exist. He was standing up for their rights and they were basic democratic rights –necessities, such as being able to vote. It was not only him. 

"There were other people arrested, including his uncle, who had been jailed a number of years earlier. He got 15 years. It was strictly political. My dad was asking: ‘Why aren’t we democrats here? We deserve to be democrats. We deserve to be heard.’”

Having moved to Arsenal from Borussia Monchengladbach, the Swiss star has taken up residence in Barnet with his wife, but has made Camden a go-to spot and visits there several times a week to eat, shop and just hang out.

“I feel a connection to Camden that takes me back to my childhood,” Xhaka added. "When Taulant (his brother) 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."

The tough-tackling midfielder is hoping to help his current club get back into the top four, having seen them finish in fifth place last season, missing out on the Champions League for the first time under Arsene Wenger.

“We deserved to be criticised after we failed to qualify for the Champions League last season,” he admitted. “Normally – and certainly for me – the critics make you stronger but I believe that, for some Arsenal players, these critics are not good. They are not helping them."

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