Put on a plis, we're going to Paris

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 16, 2015 09:34

Story Highlights

  • A nation that has never managed to get its national team to a major tournament, Albanians have often had to root for other countries in the past. No more. Next year, “plis” on, Albania heads to France. And an entire people will finally be able to root for their own team.

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The national team today has as many players ethnic Albanian players born in Kosovo, Switzerland or Germany as it does players born in Albania itself. (Photo: Archives)

The national team today has as many ethnic Albanian players born in Kosovo, Switzerland or Germany as it does players born in Albania itself. (Photo: Archives)

An underdog national team achieving its first-ever major tournament qualifications shows how a united people can be successful in Europe

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

If you live in Albania or anywhere where there are a lot of Albanians you have probably noticed the celebrations this week as the Albanian national football team achieved its highest result in its 80+ years of existence – qualifying for a major tournament – the UEFA European Football Championship, to be held in France in June-July 2016.

The hashtag #MePlisNeParis has taken over social media. We are headed to Paris, it says, wearing our “plis,” an Albanian word describing the traditional white hat that has now become a symbol of the Albanian fans. “Plis” is an old Albanian word used mainly in Kosovo, and almost unheard of in many parts of Albania until recently, where the more common “qeleshe” is used to describe the traditional hat. The national team has had a tendency to do that to Albanians as a single people. Bring them closer – merging the strength of players born in Albania with those who are ethnic Albanians in the surrounding countries, Kosovo in particular, and beyond in the ethnic Albanian diaspora.

The national team today has as many ethnic Albanian players born in Kosovo, Switzerland or Germany as it does players born in Albania itself.

This is only one of the many stories weaved into the fabric of this latest success of the Albanian team, and they tell of the lives of Albanians in recent memory – a tough recent past, but hopeful of a brighter future based on the best European values.

This is also a story of underdogs. The team itself was never expected to make it so far. The Italian-born naturalized Albanian coach was not a superstar before coming to Albania, despite leading Serie A teams in his native Italy. Yet, he has now become a legend in Albania, and is likely to head to greater fortunes once the tournament is over.

Many, but not all players, had the advantage of being born or grown up in wealthier European countries, but they all came mostly from poor immigrant families, and must have struggled as children.

Among the homegrown players there are people like Armando Sadiku, who scored the third goal in Yerevan, Armenia, securing a sure victory for Albania on Sunday. The Elbasan-born Sadiku serves as a striker in the Swiss Super League’s Zurich today, but has had an upbringing that is very different from the Swiss-born Albanians with Kosovo roots. (Sadiku too has Kosovo roots, with his ancestors moving to Elbasan from Kosovo in the 1920s.)

Sadiku started his career in the Albanian lowers leagues, playing for Turbina Cà«rrik, which even by Albanian standards is a tiny town. He worked hard, moving up in the football world from one small town to a bigger one, from Albania to Switzerland.

It's a story that can inspire young Albanian and the country itself – hard work and talent can lead to success, they just have to continue to on the right journey.

And what a journey it has been in the past two decades years to get to this point for the national team. Few people will remember that in 1997, a dark year of riots and lawlessness in this country, the national team did not even have proper shirts to go on the pitch for a game against Denmark.

In one of the darker moments of professional Albanian football, the players had to wear blue shirts, hand-me downs from Denmark's own closets, so they could play. Fifteen years later, the irony of it all is is that in 2015, Albania has managed to send Denmark to the uncertainty of play-off, itself securing a spot directly to the finals. The team has come far, and it can now go further.

A nation that has never managed to get its national team to a major tournament, Albanians have often had to root for other countries in the past. No more. Next year, “plison, Albania heads to France. And an entire people will finally be able to root for their own team.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 16, 2015 09:34