Celina: My Family Fled Kosovo to Escape War
Thursday, 7th Dec 2017 20:10
Town loanee Bersant Celina has reflected on what might have been had his parents not fled war-torn Kosovo when he was a toddler.
The Celina family were among an estimated 800,000 Kosovan Albanians who escaped the conflict, which raged for 16 months and saw thousands of innocent civilians lose their lives.
The 21-year-old, who is on a season-long loan from Manchester City, said: “I was two years old when we moved to Norway because of what was happening in the ex-Yugoslavia and from the beginning I was playing football with my friends and going to school like normal life.
“That was the best choice for my family at the time. My parents told me about people dying in the war. People getting killed is the worst thing that can happen. That was the reason we left – we didn’t want to get killed.”
Celina represented Norway as a schoolboy and youth international right through to U21 level, where he made his debut as a substitute against England in September 2015.
At that time he had ambitions to win senior honours for his adopted country, but when Kosovo was granted FIFA membership, meaning they could field their own international side, he had a big decision to make.
He added: “I grew up in Norway so I felt Norwegian. I knew I was from a different country but when it came to choosing between playing for Norway or Kosovo it was a hard decision for me.
“Norway is a really nice country and it is easy for people to live there. It was a good place to grow up.
“My parents didn’t say anything – it was up to me and what I felt. In the end I went for Kosovo because that’s what I felt was right.
“Since I had been a kid I had wanted to play for Norway because we didn’t have a Kosovan national team.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen so my target was to play for the Norwegian national team. But when we got our own national team in Kosovo it changed everything.
“Everyone in the team has their own story about what they and their families have been through. It’s amazing and a real honour to be able to play for them.
“We’ve just started and we have a lot of young talented players but it will take time for us to get into the big competitions. In the end I think it will happen.”
Having pledged his allegiance to the land of his birth he was the youngest player selected in the senior Kosovo squad for the country’s first ever FIFA-sanctioned friendly in June 2016, a 2-0 win against the Faroe Islands in which he was sent off after 37 minutes.
He made his competitive international debut as a sub against Finland in September last year, confirming there was to be no turning back. He has now won eight senior caps, scoring one goal, as well as two Kosovo U21s caps.
Asked if he saw his country’s national team as symbolic of Kosovo’s restoration he said: “Definitely. It’s like what we have here in Ipswich, good team spirit, and it’s the same there. It feels different because of what everyone has been through.”
Celina is also aware of fellow countryman Shefki Kuqi, until recently the manager of Inter Turku in his adopted Finland, and his scoring achievements at Ipswich, adding: “I know about him and I’ve seen the goals he scored here as well. Maybe one day we’ll meet up. I don’t know, we’ll see.”
Photo: Action Images
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