Kosovo’s Long Road Towards Recognition

Football Federation Kosovo
An Albania fan wears an FFK jacket before Switzerland played Albanian in a 2014 World Cup qualification match. ©James Montague

Back in 2012 I met two Kosovan men in a diner on the outskirts of Zurich. The two men were well known in Pristina. In fact one of them, Fadil Vokrii, was particularly famous. He was the only Kosovar player to ever represent the Yugoslav national team and was considered the best player ever to come from Kosovo. He was now the president of the Football Federation Kosovo [FFK] and was sitting at this small diner with Erol Salihu, another former player who was his general secretary.

The two men were on a mission. They wanted recognition for Kosovo at both UEFA and FIFA. But this wasn’t going to happen. Russia and Serbia were opposed to any such move and they had got nowhere in recent years. But around a dozen Kosovar players DID play international football, usually for countries their parents had fled to during the war. Finland, Albania, Belgium and, of course Switzerland.

Albania and Switzerland were playing each other in a 2014 World Cup qualifier, and over half of those players had Kosovar roots. Fadil and Erol were in town to meet those players and get a signature from them for a petition, asking that Kosovo be given the right to play international football.

So the three of us, Erol, Fadil and I, snuck into the Swiss hotel and met Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami, amongst others. Who all signed the petition. I wrote about the encounter in my book Thirty One Nil, but I thought again of that day when Kosovo was recently admitted into both UEFA and FIFA.

Back in 2012, membership seemed far, far away. And yet Kosovo is now likely to be included in qualification for Russia 2018, a country that does not recognise it.

There are still some barriers. Serbia, understandably given that they see Kosovo as a historic part of their own territory, is livid and will be taking the decision to CAS. Then there is the issue of who plays for Kosovo? Will Swiss and Albanian players be allowed to switch nationality, for instance?

Over the past few days I tried to answer a few of these questions. Here’s a BBC World Service report for the World Football show where I revisit that meeting in a diner in 2012. 

And here are two New York Times pieces, one on Kosovo and the other detailing FIFA’s other new member, one no less controversial: Gibraltar.

 

 

 

 

 

NY Times: Ou est Bob Bradley?

Anyone who has read Thirty One Nil (or When For Friday comes for that matter) will know that the former US men’s national team coach Bob Bradley and I have crossed paths several times.

After being fired from the US job he went on to coach the Egyptian national team during the aftermath of the January 25 revolution.

From there he ended up in Norway coaching Stabæk, a tiny team who were expected to be relegated. Still, Bradley was the first American to coach a team in one of Europe’s top divisions. In his second season they finished third and qualified for the qualification rounds of the Europa League.

Still, Bradley moved on again, this time to Le Havre, France’s oldest club, in Ligue 2. The big job he so craves has eluded him, but I went to the French port city to discover that his ambition and drive remain undiminished.

Here’s a profile I wrote for the New York Times about his time in France.

There is also this radio report for the BBC World Service. Listen out for the some of the chants by Le Havre’s ultras, The Barbarians.

The club has British roots and if you listen closely you can hear God Save the Queen. With an important difference…