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Manchester United’s Januzaj is the latest crop of Albanian talent

In recent years we have seen players of Albanian heritage choose their nationalised countries instead of their indigenous homeland. As a Kosovan-Albanian myself, I, along with many, are left frustrated by players taking this decision. From stars like Xherdan Shaqiri to less known but yet talented players like Granit Xhaka it just has a damming verdict on Albanian development.

Switzerland’s latest World Cup Qualifier call-up list involves five players of Albanian heritage: Xherdan Shaqiri, Valon Behrami, Granit Xhaka, Blerim Xhemaili and Admir Mehmedi. There are many other Albanian players that play or have played for other countries such as Norway, Finland and Sweden. The argument from the Albanian side is that players are being groomed by foreign FA’s for modelling their international career into just that- a career. English players are a perfect example of doing exactly the opposite. Generation after generation of English players play for their country and not any other eligible country. This is down to one thing: national pride. Through thick and thin, English players will stick with their country and not look to further their career via an international call-up. Of course there are aspects to consider in this.

The Albanian diaspora after the Kosovo War saw up to 1 million Kosovan-Albanians seek refuge around Europe with the majority settling in Switzerland and Germany. The 2nd generation immigrants (including myself) are too accustomed to life in Western Europe that they sometimes forgot their heritage only for their parents to bring them back to realisation with regular visits to their home country. That’s a major issue for the Albanian and Kosovan FA to deal with.

However, the Albanian FA themselves are at major fault also by not being as aggressive as the Swiss or Norwegian FA in recent years in trying to recruit the best Albanian talents around Europe. Shaqiri, Behrami, Xhaka and many more in the past have all slipped through the net because of Albanians lax attitude. This will not change if the Albanian FA do not change. The pitches need to be regulated to a world class standard. Organisation of interviews and trials with younger players need to be more organised. These are aspects that do not need investment and once they are done, national pride will take over.

The latest and most exciting Albanian talent worked his way through the ranks at Manchester United and onto the first team with two brilliantly taken goals against Sunderland today, 18 year old Adnan Januzaj has the difficult task of choosing which national team he represents.

Prior to recent claims by the ever so informed Daily Mail, Januzaj is only eligible to play for two countries: Belgium or Albania. If he were to wait until 2015 for some sort of English FA loophole he would also be eligible to play for England. UEFA and FIFA’s atrocious ironic policy of football being a ‘non-political’ association means Kosovo have still not secured membership into the respective bodies as they ‘do not meet political requirements’. If Kosovo were granted membership they would be allowed to call players up that have international caps for other countries. One loophole that FIFA’s angel Sepp Blatter didn’t cover. So with that Kosovo would be able to field a first XI full of excellent international talents, not to mention experienced. Considering that factor, Januzaj would be then eligible for Kosovo as well. Through personal sources, I am well informed that if Kosovo’s membership is eventually successful, Adnan would choose Kosovo over any offers but as it stands his family as well as Adnan himself are keen for him to represent Albania in the meantime. It is also well-documented that Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Lorik Cana would all turn their attentions to Kosovo eventually.

Albanians from Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro are extremely patriotic of their heritage of being Albanian. This has been poorly reflected by the breakaway Albanian players but excellently by those, like Lorik Cana, that have stuck through Albania’s miserable qualification record for respective World Cup and Euro competitions. However, in recent years Albania’s record has slowly improved and so has their FIFA ranking. Considering the talents on offer Albania’s record would’ve improved dramatically, no disrespect to the current squad.

For an Albanian footballer it is not nationality that should matter but blood and many of these multi-nationalised players like Shaqiri and Xhaka have all fallen victim of the ‘career’ path. One player that hasn’t fallen into this trap is Lorik Cana, of Kosovan-Albanian heritage and his club career has been exceptional, playing for PSG, Marseille, Sunderland, Galatasaray and Lazio respectively. He himself was eligible to play for France and Switzerland. He publicly criticised Valon Behrami (another of Kosovan-Albanian heritage) for trying to ‘re-blood himself with Swiss-Italian blood’ stating that a foreigner is always a foreigner in Western Europe.It should be respected that they want to better themselves with every game they play but if these talented players were to step up and one by one and filter into Albania’s first team, Albania would’ve had an excellent team by now. Politics and football should always be separated, a perfect example is Palestine being allowed to compete in competitive qualification games.

The Albania-Kosovo conundrum is a mystical situation but the question remains what loyalty many of the Kosovan players will show once Kosovo reaches it’s UEFA and FIFA status, one thing is for sure and that is Albania and Kosovo as small of countries they are, they do love their football.

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