Kosovo’s political football

Coach has high hopes for national team if independence from Serbia is achieved.

Kf Prishtina were the first Kosovan team to play in the old Yugoslav first division

Edmond Rugova is the coach of a national team, but it is a team that does not yet officially have a country.

Kosovo is still a province of Serbia and during the eight years under the administration of the United Nations Rugova’s team have been unable to compete in international tournaments.
The province’s footballers were spread across the world by the conflict between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian fighters.

But many of the displaced plying their trade across Europe are now being considered for an international call-up should the province be successful in its bid for independence.

Perhaps the most famous Kosovar exile is Lorik Cana, captain of Olympique Marseille and a current Albanian international.

Last year Cana was asked by an Albanian journalist whether he would still play for Albania’s national team if Kosovo gained independence.

After a moment of silence, he said: “I have found my team.”

However, Rugova played with Cana’s father, Agim, as part the so-called Golden Generation of KF Pristina, when they became the first Kosovar team to reach the old Yugoslav first division.

“If we should be admitted, and I hope we will be, he will be captain of Kosovo,” Rugova told Al Jazeera.

Political players

Other Kosovars currently playing for the nations they arrived in as refugees include Valon Behrami, the right-sided Lazio player who represents Switzerland, and Shefki Kuqi, the Fulham striker who represents Finland.

A number of Kosovar Albanians have played for the Albanian national team.

The Marseille captain Lorik Cana is among those
eligible to play for Kosovo [GALLO/GETTY]

Rugova, who has lived in the US for the last 23 years, told Al Jazeera that although he is not political, he believes that what he is doing is important in ending the limbo that Kosovo has found itself in since the UN took over.

“The athletes in Kosovo, especially in football, have been hostage to the political process,” he said.

“I recognise and understand the problems of independence, the political implications and all that stuff, but at the same time you cannot ignore an army of youngsters.”

Rugova believes that Kosovo should have been taking part in major international tournaments under a United Nations flag for the past eight years.

The national coach said that any nationalist feeling would not be allowed to get in the way of the Kosovo team.

Ahead of his first game he invited two Serbs, Nikola Lazetic of the Italian club Torino, who was born in the divided northern city of Mitrovica, and Jovan Tanasijevic of Dynamo Moscow into the squad.

They did not show up but Rugova said he would continue to include all ethnicities in his squads.

“That’s what Kosovo is, we have all kinds of backgrounds,” he said.

“It could be Turkish, it could be Serbian, I don’t care what background you have, if you are a Kosovar and you are a good player you are going to be invited to play.”

Landmark victory

Less than one year after Rugova took over, Kosovo secured their first major victory defeating Saudi Arabia, one of Asia’s most successful sides who have qualified for four World Cup finals and won the Asian Cup three times.

Rugova admitted that he had gone into the match expecting that his team would get “whacked”, but his fledgling side was in no position to turn down the offer of a game.

Al Jazeera in Kosovo

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Kosovo’s divided city

War of words in Serbia’s ‘Jerusalem’

Kristian Nushi, one of the Kosovar diaspora, gave Rugova his dream victory, scoring from the penalty spot in the 84th minute.

Rugova admits watching a replay of the game many times since then but was brought back down to earth by the cancellation of two games against German opposition, planned for later this month.

“It’s all connected to not being recognised yet … we have problems that many nations could not understand, mainly around getting visas, you cannot get them on time or somebody cannot get approved,” he said.

His family have been left back in the US, where Rugova played for the New York Cosmos and the Kansas City Comets before turning to coaching.

“I left my family behind because I truly and honestly believe in this cause. I know what can happen once we are out of these political problems,” he said.

“If we are admitted I can honestly say that in a very short period of time we will be one of the more competitive teams in this part of the world.”

Source: Al Jazeera

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