Big interview: Hibs' Florian Kamberi speaks on representing Albania
Easter Road forward can't wait for international debut after helping club get important win
Hibs striker Florian Kamberi is currently in Tirana, enthralled by the prospect of finally becoming a fully-fledged internationalist for Albania in the coming days.
The ambitious 24-year-old has always dreamed of representing one of the three countries for which he was eligible. Kamberi could have played for Switzerland, the nation of his birth, or Kosovo or Albania, the two Balkan nations for which he qualified by virtue of his parentage. In the end, it was Albania who displayed the greatest desire to bring him on board and they duly called him up last week for their upcoming Euro 2020 qualification double-header.
Kamberi is in line to win his first cap against Andorra in the city of Elbasan on Thursday, and then has the mouthwatering prospect of facing world champions France on Sunday in what will be Albania’s first game at their new 22,500-capacity national stadium, Arena Kombëtare, in Tirana. N’Golo Kante, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe are among the French luminaries Hibs’ international rookie could be sharing a field with this Sunday. After returning to the starting lineup for his club at the weekend, the hitman is buzzing with excitement as he prepares for a landmark phase in his career.
“It will be a very big thing to play these two games and hopefully I will be involved and can make an impression on the coaching staff,” Kamberi told the Evening News. “Every game for your national team is a privilege no matter who it is against but to have my first or second game against a team like France, who are the world champions, makes it even more exciting. You can compare yourself with the best players and see where you are. The fact it is the first game in the new stadium, there will be an amazing atmosphere. It’s just an amazing time for me. If you’re an international player, people look at you differently. They have more expectation about you but I can handle pressure very well. I am not a weak guy, I like pressure. It motivates me to try and prove people wrong who have bad images about me. I’m very much looking forward to this and I am very confident. I can’t wait to get started and become an international player.”
Kamberi was born in Zurich and won under-21 caps with Switzerland but has no qualms about pledging his allegiance to Albania, who are managed by Edoardo Reja and have former Rangers and Juventus defender Sergio Porrini on their coaching staff. “I was never waiting for a particular nation,” he insisted. “I have always been in touch with Switzerland, Kosovo and Albania. I wanted first to focus on playing regularly for my club. At my previous club, I didn’t play for six months at Grasshoppers, so for me it was important to play a full year in the starting XI, scoring goals and getting into a routine. And now was the time for me. Albania have shown a strong interest in me. They called me and my agent many times and showed me they want me and need me. That shows they have trust in me. I don’t want to wait for a nation - I want to go where I’m needed and Albania is the right nation for me. It is a privilege for me to go and play for Albania. I knew a few of the players already which always makes it easier.”
Kamberi’s family are swelling with pride at the prospect of him becoming an international footballer. “My parents are from Kosovo but there is no difference for me between Kosovo and Albania,” he explained of the two bordering nations who have a strong bond and share many of the same traditions and folklore. “For me, it is just one nation which has become split. We all speak the same language. It’s just a privilege to represent this country. My family are very proud. Since day one, they have been at my side through good and bad times. It’s special for my parents to see their son representing a nation. Albania is a wonderful nation so I can’t wait to represent them on the pitch.”
The stars have aligned nicely for Kamberi he has been able to arrive in Albania for his maiden international voyage buoyed by a productive return to the Hibs starting lineup at the weekend. After starting only one of his team’s last seven matches under the charge of Paul Heckingbottom before the Yorkshireman was sacked last Monday, Kamberi was restored to the side by interim manager Eddie May on Saturday and produced a brilliant display which included two assists for strike partner Christian Doidge in the 4-1 win away to St Johnstone.
“I felt very good on the pitch on Saturday,” said Kamberi. “I think we proved some things, that we shouldn’t be where we are in the league. But that was our first win so we can’t now just sit back and say that was an amazing game, we have to continue playing like that.
“We prepared the whole week very well with Eddie. We played a lot of games, more possession-based games last week. We didn’t work so much on tactics, it was just about doing the basic stuff and enjoying it. If you want to be successful you need to get the basic stuff right first and not try and complicate it because football is very easy. Just do the basic stuff well. We prepared very well with Eddie. He motivated us very well for the game.
“I’ve known Eddie since I came to Hibs in January 2018 and I know how he sees me and how much he trusts me. I gave everything for Eddie and I was happy with my two assists and especially for Doidgey because he had been getting a lot of criticism. On Saturday, he showed everyone he can score goals so I was delighted for him.”