An Albanian speaks just as fluent in English as any of the players called up by Gareth Southgate for their World Cup qualifier.
Teenage forward Armando Broja was born and raised in Slough, 1,600 miles from Sunday’s Tirana site, and has been playing Chelsea since he was ten and spent this season on loan at Vitesse Arnhem.
Broja, whose Albanian parents settled in England, won his fourth cap in Thursday’s 1-0 win against Andorra, but the meeting with his “home country” will be special on many levels.
Teenage striker Armando Broja was born in England, but will compete against them for Albania
Broja has been with Chelsea since he was 10 and named Didier Drogba as his favorite player
‘I am British but also Albanian. Most of my family are still there and it’s my blood, ”he says.
‘England wanted me for the under-19s, but Albania gave me the opportunity to become a full-fledged international. I am happy with the choice. We have talented players. They qualified for Euro 2016 and we can go to another big tournament.
‘I know the Chelsea players of England quite well. I trained with Mason Mount and Reece James for six months last season and we regularly speak on Instagram. We’ll talk after the game, which will be fun.
“People call Mason a manager’s dream, and he is. They can put him in any position and he will work very hard and do what they ask. A team can be confident to get them out of the mud when needed. ‘
Broja has trained with Chelsea teammates Mason Mount (left) and Reece James (right)
Broja, 19, grew up in England with his two sisters. His parents had come to the country as young adults and he remembers speaking Albanian at home when he learned English in school and on television.
“Knowing the national anthem or talking to my teammates is no hassle,” he laughs.
His football potential didn’t take long to shine. Spurs saw him play in an eight-year junior tournament. After two years with them, Chelsea wanted him too. As a childhood blues fan, it wasn’t a hard decision.
‘It has always been a dream to play for Chelsea. My mom’s cousin, Mirel, loved them and took me to Stamford Bridge for games, ”says Broja.
“Didier Drogba was my favorite player – I remember scoring one goal with this great turn and left foot volleyball – and I saw a lot of the home games when they won the Champions League in 2012. I went to the cup final at Wembley as well.”
Broja, who was named in honor of his father’s favorite player Diego Armando Maradona, is tall and slim like another Chelsea forward, Tammy Abraham, albeit calm.
The family has moved to Chelsea’s training ground in Cobham and he made his senior debut as a substitute against Everton last season.
In terms of playing style, Broja is compared to fellow Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham
He is currently following in the footsteps of many other Blues players, including Nemanja Matic and Mount himself, by developing in the Netherlands.
Broja scored nine goals in the Dutch Eredivisie, despite having to cope with a Covid environment with a 8 p.m. curfew at one point.
That restriction has since been lifted, so he gets to meet his teammates for a takeaway or go for a walk as an alternative to gaming.
Back at Stamford Bridge, a great cast are watching his progress.
Population: 2.8 million
FIFA Ranking: Pos 66
Previous major tournaments: Euro 2016 (group stage)
Record against England: P4 W0 D0 L4 (all World Cup qualifiers)
Last game against England: a 2-0 defeat in 2001. Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler scored.
Famous Albanian Heritage: Dua Lipa, John Belushi, Mother Teresa.
“Chelsea is using former players to help deal with the loans,” he explains. ‘I speak with Tore Andre Flo and Carlo Cudicini.
‘They can’t come to see me play right now, but we have group chats. They analyze my games and give me feedback. Paolo Ferreira and Claude Makelele are also involved. ‘
Broja hopes to return to pre-season with Chelsea before deciding with the club and his own family and representatives where to play in 2021/22.
Before then, however, it will be special to act against England. ‘It’s going to be good. I will have a few emotions. It’s a game you don’t want to miss, ”he admits.
‘We have a lot of talented players. Marash Kumbulla, the Roma defender, is very good (Kumbulla misses the England game with a knee injury).
Berat Djimsiti from Atalanta as well. It should be an interesting game and hopefully we can win. We will work hard and see.
‘Albania is a country with a lot of history in general, not just football. They have waged war several times. They have had a very difficult background and lifestyle.
‘I want to help as much as possible. I understand what it means for Albania to be known in a positive way.
‘When Albania qualified for Euro 2016, it was really crazy, partying all over the country. My dad went from England to France to support the team, although I couldn’t go because I was playing in a tournament.
‘Reaching the World Cup would be even greater for Albania. The whole country would be united, it would be special. ‘
MEET THE ALBANES
Albania has lost all four previous encounters with England, but is no longer international minnows. The Eagles reached the Euro 2016 final, finishing third in their last World Cup qualifying group behind Spain and Italy.
THE MISSING JEWEL – MARASH KUMBULLA
The 21-year-old center-back impressed on Verona’s loan to Roma this season, helping them reach the Europa League quarter-finals, strong in the air and a controlled passer. Linked to Spurs but injured his knee against Andorra and returned to Italy.
THE SURVIVOR – ERMIR LENJANI
Part of the Albanian Euro 2016 team that beat Romania after defeats against Switzerland and France. The Grasshoppers fullback scored the winner against Andorra last week and celebrated with a somersault.
THE TRICKSTER – REY MANAJ
Barcelona B forward who will be England’s greatest attacking danger. Started his career with Inter Milan and still has time to make it at the age of 24. Has scored in each of Albania’s last two home matches.
THE CAPTAIN GOALIE – ETRIT BERISHA
Now 32, Berisha has played in Italy for the past eight years, once for Lazio and Atalanta and now in Serie B with SPAL. Can expect a busier time against Harry Kane than against Andorra
THE BIG GAME EXPERIENCE – BERAT DJIMSITI
The defender has faced the best clubs in Europe, including Real Madrid, PSG and Manchester City, during Atalanta’s Champions League matches in recent years. In its prime at the age of 28.
THE TECHNICIAN – KEIDI BARE
Espanyol’s 23-year-old midfielder created the pass that gave Albania a winning start in their World Cup campaign. Started his career with Atletico Madrid and then spent two seasons with Malaga
THE MANAGER – EDOARDO REJA
The Italian is 75, two years older than Roy Hodgson and has adapted well to international management after working for 22 different clubs, including Napoli.
Still looking good on the sidelines. His assistant Sergio Porrini played for Rangers between 1997 and 2001.