Albanian President, Bujar Nishani awarding the national team captain, Lorik Cana with "Honor of the nation" medal | Photo: LSA

Albanian President, Bujar Nishani awarding the national team captain, Lorik Cana with “Honor of the nation” medal | Photo: LSA

Kosovo can enter the 2018 World Cup after being accepted yesterday as a member of world governing body Fifa.

Kosovo became the 210th member of the football family and can start preparations for the 2018 World Cup qualifying tournament, all this after being granted membership of European governing body Uefa last week, narrowly surviving a vote on their inclusion by 28 votes to 24.

But Albania footie fans fear the this will draw talent away from their own squad and undermine its chances.

Albania football fans are worried about the possible effect of creating a Kosovo national team on the Albanian squad, which has historically drawn on players of Albanian origin across the region and beyond.

Politics and egoism may the complicate process of defining a roster of the future Kosovo football squad, as Kosovo-born players make up the core of Albania’s own team in the coming European Championship in France, a former Albanian football star has warned.

Although Albanian football fans are focusing right now on their chances in the Uefa European championship – where the “Red and Black” team will participate for the first time – some doubts the team will replicate its earlier successes in future if top players are siphoned off to join Kosovo’s team.

Rudi Vata, a former captain of the Albanian national football team, told BIRN that the official creation of a Kosovo team, can only complicate matters.

“The negotiations that take place between two national football federations [Albania and Kosovo] will be crucial in seeing what happens with the Albanian national team – and I foresee politics and egoism getting involved in these negotiations,” Vata living in the United Kingdom said during an interview for BIRN.

Members of the Albanian Football Federation declined to discuss with BIRN any future negotiations and deals that they may make with their Kosovo counterparts, establishing rules on how the two teams will work alongside each other.

The Albanian squad already lost goalie Samir Ujkani, who quit Albania to play for Kosovo on February 2014.

In the recent friendly match played against Albania in Pristina, seven of Kosovo’s 17-man team were born outside of Kosovo while eight were raised abroad. Most had played for other national teams on different levels.
However, three Kosovo-born players, Frederik Veseli, Berat Djimsiti and Amir Rrahmani, have turned down offers to play for Kosovo and have chosen the Albanian team instead.

Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj has decided to play for Belgium despite invitations from both Kosovo and Albania.

The Albanian national team has long drawn on talents from all over the region where Albanians live – and players from Kosovo are an important pillar.

Among them is Lorik Cana, the Albanian captain, who was considered a big factor in leading the team to the Uefa qualifications.

Rudi Vata believes that some young Kosovo-born players will inevitably join the Kosovo team as it struggles to win international.

According to him, this could undermine the Albanian national team, previously the first choice for most of them.

“The most important thing in this process should be understanding and openness and a willingness to do the best for both teams,” he said.

“We have to come out these talks with full dignity and present ourselves as brothers in the international football arena,” Vata emphasized.

Worryingly, the leading group of Albanian fans, who call themselves the Red and Black (Tifozat Kuq e Zi), boycotted the friendly football match between Albania and Kosovo in November in Pristina.

They absented themselves from the game, arguing that they had never have been to a stadium where two teams of Albanians played against each other.

Petrit Osmani, leader of the Red and Black fans in Pristina, told BIRN that the Kosovo football national team should always be the second choice for Albanian players, while the Albanian team should remain the most important.

“We will always encourage Kosovo-born player to join the Albanian team. We believe that when they participate in this team, they don’t represent Kosovo or Albania alone but the whole Albanian nation,” he said.

He believes the only upside in creating a Kosovo national team is the opportunity for Albanian players to have more than one team to play for, and make more international debuts.

“In the end it is just an individual choice, although I’m convinced that Albania’s national team will always remain the most important one,” he said.

The debate about the impact that a Kosovo national team could have on Albania’s squad is expected to climax after the Uefa European championship.

The Albanian sports media write that a total of 31 Albanian players will feature in the Euro 2016 in France, since ethnic Albanians have for years been part of other European national teams, including Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Denmark.