Bajram Shala Talks Season’s Plans for the Kosovo National Football Team

Bajram Shala received his appointment as Team Manager for the Kosovo National Football Team in July 2015. A year later, in May 2016, he became the Licensing Manager for UEFA Competitions at Football Federation of Kosovo.

Prior to joining the soccer team, Bajram Shala was a well-respected journalist for RTV 21, where he was a TV show author and presenter since 2003. Born in Pristina, Kosovo in 1986, Mr. Shala graduated in 2007 with a Journalism degree from the AAB University in Pristina, Kosovo.

Bajram Shala has been alongside Head Coach Bernard Challandes, while leading the team through several successful and glory years, including important events such as UEFA Nations League win (2018), soccer matches against the Czech Republic and England (September 2019) and wins against Bulgaria (2019), Montenegro (2019), and Albania (2018).

Interview with Bajram Shala, Team Manager of The Kosovo National Football Team

NY Elite: What makes a good team?

Bajram Shala: There are a lot of details, when put together can make a good team. The working environment where everyone puts in the effort is very important. Also, the strong and supportive character not only from the those who are part of the team, not just the players, but all team members is equally important to the well-being and the state of mind of the entire team.

A good team comprises of a careful selection of skillful and talented players, who display a team-mentality rather an individualistic approach. Additionally, the leadership of the head-coach plays a big role, the way he leads the team in sportive and psychological way.

Another factor that contributes to a great team is the management’s dedication to the team, in terms of what they offer to the team. I believe these are some of the most important considerations that can help improve a team and make a great one.   

NY Elite: How would you describe the team spirit at the Kosovo national football team?

Bajram Shala: Although we are a newly created team, the team represents a country with a lot of history and pride, which is reflected in the team’s spirit. National pride has been crucial since the initial creation of the Kosovo National team. In this sense we cannot separate the history of the country with the spirit that team has now. Despite the fact that many of players are born or were raised in different European countries, all of them share the same passion, love and dedication to Kosovo as a country of their origin which suffered a lot to survive.

Beyond this connection with history and country, we have achieved to create a real connection between players, coaching staff and management. This connection gives another dimension of team spirit and of our team, which we feel really proud. The atmosphere inside the team, the way players support each-other, the way how they celebrate success and how they react on difficult times, are proof and examples of the team spirit our team has.

NY Elite: What is your leadership style?

Bajram Shala: I really think that in everything we do, we show our own character, grounded in professionalism, care, and respect. I think our work should be an extension of who we are, and our philosophy. I see it as one of principles of the way we should live, being humble and respectful towards everyone around us. I try to show the same approach at the work setting in the work that I do with the team, in my cooperation with Head-coach, the players and the Federations Top Management.

NY Elite: Can you tell us a little bit more about the head coach and the role he has played for the team?

Bajram Shala: The history of building our National Team is not quite simple. Everyone who has worked with National Team on different situations merits his own credit for the team we have now.

During the last seven years, we have developed a lot. In January 2014, the Kosovo National Football Team was allowed to play FIFA non-Official Friendly Matches even when we weren’t yet members of UEFA or FIFA. This is the beginning of building the team that we currently have now. The membership in UEFA in May 2016 is a historic moment because it branded us as an official National Team and gave us credibility in front of the world.

During this time, the Head Coach of National Team was Mr. Albert Bunjaki, who was appointed in July 2009, when nothing was in place and literally did everything to create this team in the professional sports sense. He led the team until the end of 2017 on qualifiers campaign for World Cup “Russia 2018”. Results were not the best ones, but he has had a crucial role to bring most of the players we have now. This shows how important his role was on creation of our team.

Afterwards, in February 2018, Mr. Bernard Challandes was appointed our new Head-coach, who is a Swiss coach and who has had a huge role. We have had an amazing run of 15 matches without a loss, beating teams as Czech Republic, Albania, Bulgaria and we have been placed among very respectful teams of Europe which was an amazing achievement for a Football Association who has been member of UEFA and FIFA for just three years at the time.  

NY Elite: We would like to know more about the members of Kosovo national football team? Which ones have stood out so far?

Bajram Shala: The Kosovo National Football team, is a young team in every meaning of the word young. Not only as the youngest member of UEFA and FIFA, but also in the sense of being consisted by really young players. As a very young team we have a lot of really talented players who have stood out during our short journey of European football family. However, as part of management staff of the team, it wouldn’t be fair for me to mention anyone individually. Each player’s performance could be easily verified by the level on the clubs they play for, because it gives a really significant signal about the individual level also.

NY Elite: What are your plans for this season?

Bajram Shala:  It is going to be a tough season ahead. In March we will start the qualifiers campaign for the World Cup “Qatar 2022” where we are going to face some strong opponents such as Spain, Sweden, Greece and Georgia. Our team is motivated to work hard and will continue to train.

Also, it’s going to be the year of our debut in Euro and in that sense, it would be hard for us to see the tournament ongoing during the summer and having in mind that we could easily be one of participants.

NY Elite: What are some of the team’s achievements?

Bajram Shala: Despite being a really young team with only a short history in UEFA and FIFA competitions, we have achieved some interesting and important results. After the disappointing campaign for World Cup “Russia 2018”, during 2016 and 2017 the newly promoted competitions of UEFA, UEFA Nations League welcomed us as the underdogs to show our potential and strength. On the 2018 competition, the Kosovo National Football Team won the  group, which means we secured promotion from League D to League C and by that we also secured participating on play-off to qualify to Euro 2020.

After that, we have had a brilliant qualifiers campaign for “Euro 2020”, finishing on third place on really tough group with teams such as: England, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Montenegro. We have lost the opportunity to finish second only on last match day, which means we were so close to get qualification to “Euro 2020” which would be an amazing and historical achievement for a National Team as Kosovo.

NY Elite: Any memorable games/play offs that you would like to highlight?

Bajram Shala: Yeah, there are many of them, but I would like to highlight some like the wins against Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Albania and Montenegro, but also the loss against England in Southampton.

The match against the Czech Republic was an amazing match which we have won despite we were without 5 very important staring players of our line-up and despite the fact that we were facing an extraordinary opponent for our level. Against Azerbaijan in Prishtina on Nov. 2018 we have won on a very fashionable way, with a style and convincing with the result 4:0.  It was a match that made us group winners on first edition of UEFA Nations League and secured us play off for “Euro 2020”.

I would also like to highlight the loss against England in Sep. 2019 because of the way how that match went. We shocked England by leading 1:0, less than a minute after the kick-off, after that we showed some really good football in sense of the way we were playing, but we suffered a lot on first half which ended up with a terrible result 5:1. On second half we were able to react, to score twice and match ended 5:3, but the way we play, without fear, and fact that we were a real opponent against England was a real reason to feel proud about.

NY Elite: Since Kosovo national football team joined UEFA & FIFA in 2016, what do these memberships mean for the team and Kosovo?

Bajram Shala: The membership in the two football families literally meant “surviving” for Kosovan football in general, not only for the National Football Team. Since 1991 until 2016 our football consisted of playing games only in Kosovo, with lack of investments specially in infrastructure, but also on many other segments of developing football, such are conditions for working with youths and seeing football as a reputable industry as it really is now, not just as a simple game.

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