As I approach Kaçanik I am welcomed by a beautiful view of the Cliff of Kaçanik or ‘Gryka a Kaçanikut’ as the Albanians would say. ‘Kaçanik right’ the sign reads and shortly after I have entered this small city southeast of Kosovo.
Not many can put Kaçanik on Kosovo’s map and it surely is not a city that has put themselves on the sportsmap. Kaçanik has rarely been associated with any sports what so ever. The football team KF Lepenci made their Superliga debut a couple of years ago but are currently playing in the lower tiers. However now there is another group of guys making headlines in that same department.
Meet New Star, Kaçanik’s Football Academy.
During the spring their U13 team prepared themselves for Norway Cup that was going to take place on from July 26th. Norway Cup is a huge tournament for youngsters and this is the second time the boys from Kacanik joined the competition. Last year the team, coached by Fatos Vishi, even won first place. Sponsored by the Norweigan Embassy they were so impressed that they decided to send New Star off to Norway again.
In Norway New Star were lined up against three other Norwegian teams, apart from that they had also booked a friendly game against Vålerenga. However I can add that they were not the only team from Kosovo, KF Rahoveci were also invited. Since I was born in Kaçanik I was ever so excited about New Star’s participation so I decided to write a piece about them.
I arrived in Kaçanik mid July and made my first visit New Star’s training facility shortly after arriving, a place I spent most of my days following their preparations. When I first I sat down with coach Vishi he started telling me about their voyage. The former football player Vishi founded New Start the Football Academy back in 2008 and around five years later their success grew bigger as they were invited to take place in all types of tournaments. The team was first named Diti Sport after the arena but once they started to do well the coach came up with another name. New Star. ”Here is where the youngsters grow and become the new stars of Kosovo” he explained as he showed me their logo. ”I want to be able to add a star right under our logo and write their name underneath it knowing that this is where they came from.” Vishi has earned himself a UEFA A-license and has Abit Dema and Gojart Axhami onboard his coaching staff.
After our coffee break he showed me around the indoor pitch and stoped to point at a wall. There were pictures of them from every tournament that they have participated in outside the Kosovo border. “I’ve almost run out of place to put up more pictures” he says laughing and yet I saw the pride in his eyes as he stood their staring at the pictures.
This was confirmed by the entire city as everyone said the same thing when asking if they heard of the team. Everyone wanted to show their support but I could only choose a few images.
“Oh New Star, yes vlla (Albanian for brother), you know Fatos Vishi’s boys”. That’s right, they’re going to Norway again. ”
As I mentioned earlier I was at every practice following every step in the preparation part. I could tell that the coach valued dicipline and respect but of course without ruining the fun out of it. His coaching style was seen in the way the players acted. “I want to leave a good impression everywhere we go and I am most certain that we get invited to so many tournaments just because they think we do so.” And they sure have. Next year for example there is another big tournament waiting them as they have been invited as special guests to Germany. Some of the opponents could be Bayern München. Sporting Lissbon, Juventus or even PSV Eindhoven.
The coach introduced me to the team during the first practice and explained that I was a Kaçanik born writer from Sweden who wanted to write an article about them. I saw their eyes grow big as coach Vishi went on and mentioned that I also had worked with Kosovo’s National Team last year. It was very noticeable that these kids where not used to having someone writing about them and yet they were all humble about the attention they were getting.
“My son came home with a huge smile on his face telling me about this writer from Sweden who wanted to write about them”. Enis Raka’s father told me. “He was jumping from joy, you know kids around here aren’t used to that kind of attention. And it means a lot to me as well seeing my boy happy“.
Just like these kids Kosovo is developing as well. The Balkan war back in 1999 shattered Kosovo into a million pieces and it is still under reconstruction. A process that might take many decades, especially for a poor country like this. And since football is a poor man sport, perhaps this might be one of the reasons why our people have been so successful in this sport. All you need is a ball and two feet to play.
“Me and my boys are thrilled to come from this small town and small country and get these opportunities where we get to travel the world. This is also a great way to keep kids off the streets. And I think with you coming here and writing about them has a huge impact too.” He says referring to me. “If they see that they get international response from writers around the globe it might push them further towards the football instead of hanging out with the wrong people.”
Normally teams would never fear an unknown team from this small country from this even smaller town but New Star has a pretty impressive resume. Won the Norway Cup on their first try, won a tournament in Denmark and they have also participated in tournaments abroad like Turkey where they played against Chelsea’s youngsters.
Someone that has helped the team collect many trophies is captain Etnik Brruti, born in 2004. Despite being one of the youngest of the bunch 11-year-old Etnik shows signs of maturity and I can understand why the coach has chosen him to lead the team. ”I am aware of the importance of this role (as captain) and my goal is to lead my team to another victory. “ When asked which other famous captain he looks up to he answers: ”I want to be like Iniesta”.
Another player that stands out with his unique hairdo is Genc Berisha. ”We’re going to win!” he tells me with a confident voice. Born in 2002, this youngster who gained experience with Arsenal’s Youth Academy in Greece last year as was called up and showed them what he was capable of.
With Genc Berisha’s final words I waved off the team as they travelled to Adem Jashari’s airport. Shortly after I travelled home and eagerly followed New Star’s games from Swedem. They finished first in the group after winning against all three Norwegian teams. 4-0 in the first round, 5-1 in the second and 5-2 in the final game. They sailed through to the eight finals where their success continued as they beat their opponents with a wopping 9-1. However they failed to advance to the semifinals after losing by a narrow 2-3 to a team that scored 37 goals during the group stage while New Star scored 14.
Even though they went home with an empty trophy case New Star returned home one experience richer and we couldn’t be prouder of this group of guys. There are not many youngsters who get to travel the world and unofficially become young ambassadors of Kosovo showing the world that good football players can be produced even in the smallest corners.
Now the question is, will New Star turn out to be a future talent factory? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Oh and here is Kaçanik on the map, in case you were wondering.
By: Kosovare Mezini, writing from Kaçanik and Sweden.