Januzaj’s continued emergence at Manchester United has intensified questions about his international future.
Born in Belgium to Kosovan parents Januzaj has thus far declined offers to represent the country of his birth. He is eligible to play for Albania and also Kosovo – who have yet to receive full competitive status from FIFA and UEFA.
We asked Kosovo Football Federation (FFK) General Secretary Eroll Salihu about Januzaj’s situation.
“Only the player can decide where to play and we will respect any his decision. We cannot ignore the fact that the player has Belgium statehood and also is Albanian Nationality, it’s depend only from him a[n]d his family,” he said.
“We would be happy if FIFA and UEFA admitted FFK and the player could choose for his country too. We have contacts with all football players from Kosovo even with the young age groups players, but it would be ungrateful to ask from them to play for our national team now and to prevent them to play for other national teams.”
The FFK stance is admirable but they are caught in a geopolitical storm. They hope that a decision about their status will be clarified next year and they can begin to offer a viable international future to players qualified to represent them.
Any development is likely to come too late for Januzaj however. Rumours about his intentions remain and as his profile continues to rise the pressure for him to decide his future intensifies.
Albania are understandably keen to recruit him. Their squad is filled with players with similar backgrounds to Januzaj.
Captain Lorik Cana of Lazio was one of a group of ten high profile exiled Kosovo-eligible international players who canvassed FIFA pleading for FFK recognition in 2012.
Their wish has yet to be granted. FIFA has said that Kosovo can play friendlies but not in competitive matches. UEFA require Kosovo to hold full UN status before they can admit them.
The situation is highly complex and goes way beyond the realms of sport. In addition to FIFA and UEFA, the UN, Russia, the FAs of Albania and Serbia all have views on the emancipation of the Kosovo football team.
Until circumstances change elite level Kosovan players will continue to represent other nations.
Xherdan Shaqiri of Bayern Munich and Switzerland is the most high profile footballer from the Kosovo diaspora. He, along with Granit Xhaka of Borussia Monchengladbach and Valon Behrami, signed the petition handed to FIFA. Although still hypothetical it is unlikely Switzerland would be happy to see three of its best players join another national team.
Cana is believed to have spoken to Januzaj about playing for Albania. Until he makes a decision no eventuality can be discounted.
International football is a significant motivation in a footballer’s career but nationality and ethnicity strike far deeper. For Januzaj, and those like him, the personal is also highly political.
Kosovo will continue to see its footballers representing other nations until it achieves full competitive status. This is a situation laden with heavy political baggage but lives and careers are being impacted. UEFA and FIFA must do all they can to end this indecision. Sport can provide the impetus for political change.
Adnan Januzaj’s international career will help illuminate an area of the very darkest grey.
- Our original piece of May 5 2013
Adnan Januzaj and the Kosovar Diaspora
Sir Alex Ferguson is not one to hand out praise lightly. So when he describes a young Manchester United player as “one of the most promising talents we have here,” it is time to pay attention.
While the United boss might not be able to pronounce the name of his latest fledgling it is one that football will soon grow familiar with. Big things are expected of Adnan Januzaj at Old Trafford.
“I can’t pronounce his name, we just call him Adnan” – Sir Alex Ferguson
Several impressive displays for the United development sides have seen Januzaj awarded the number 44. The 18 year old is expected to make his senior debut in the not too distant future, perhaps even before the season’s end.
Januzaj was born in Brussels to parents of Kosovan lineage. He came through the ranks at Anderlecht and there was much umbrage when United took him to Old Trafford two years ago.
“His parents fell for the money of the English team”, said Anderlecht general manager, Herman Van Holsbeeck. “The future will prove them right or wrong.” United paid the Belgian club a fee reportedly just shy of £300,000 for Januzaj. It already looks a very good deal for the English club.
Arriving as a finely skilled dribbler United have worked hard on his fitness and strength. Januzaj now has the physical attributes to allow his prodigious technique to shine at a higher level.
He is a subtle final third player, his game is all about close control, beating opponents when under pressure, and vision. With big question marks over the futures of Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young it is clear that there are potential gaps to be filled in the attacking positions at Old Trafford.
Wilfried Zaha arrives at United in the summer and coupled with the continued emergence of Shinji Kagawa a tactical shift can be detected in Ferguson’s future plans. A move away from the pace oriented approach of the current team toward a more proactive, refined style where short passing, individual skill and comfort in possession become more important. Quick feet as well as fast leg.
It is not hard to see where Januzaj might fit into this game plan. He is comfortable in most attacking midfield positions but has spent the majority of the last season on the right. While his current promotion comes as a reward for his performances in the youth ranks it would not be surprising to see Januzaj stake a powerful claim for genuine first team involvement next season.
He is one of four highly promising Belgian born youngsters in the Old Trafford youth ranks. Marnick Vermijl, Charni Ekangamene and especially, Andreas Pereira, are names worth keeping a very close eye on.
Januzaj has yet to play for any of the Belgium representative sides which raises the question of where his international future lies. His parents are of Kosovan origin and the Republic of Kosovo has yet to gain full membership of FIFA or UEFA.
Januzaj himself is circumspect on the matter. “I’ve never played for Belgium at youth level. It will come later, there is no point in rushing. I will just try to do my best for Manchester United and that’s it for now.”
Where he plays his international football will be interesting. Nationality is at once the most personal and collective of issues, striking at the heart of an individuals identity.
The Kosovar diaspora is spread across far Europe. There are several notable young players starting to emerge at major European clubs. Until the politics decide otherwise it is likely that the national teams of other nations will benefit from the situation in Kosovo.
Januzaj is very much a child of his times, representative of the global face of elite football and ethno-geographic struggle in the twenty first century.