Professionals | 21/06/2016

Interview with Mergim Mavraj

A car and diplomatic passports

Mergim Mavraj has entered the Albanian history books following his country’s 1-0 win over Romania at UEFA Euro 2016. In an interview with fc-koeln.de the FC center back discusses the historic victory and his excitement for the new FC season.

fc-koeln.de: First of all, happy belated 30th birthday! And of course we want to congratulate you on your first win with Albania at UEFA Euro 2016. Can you describe how you are feeling?

“It was a major relief. When you lose two successive games without scoring a goal, you do start to think about how you cannot go down without putting up a fight. Having got the goal and the win we can look ahead now. The way we played football was not bad. It is nice that we were able to present our fans with a joyous memory.”

How did you and your team celebrate the country’s first win at a major tournament?

“Before we hit the showers we spoke on the phone with our President, because he is one of our biggest supporters. Later on in the night all players received diplomatic passports. Then we were able to negotiate a car for Ergys Kace (laughs). Something like that only happens here. 

Our families were all waiting at the hotel for us. We then had a feast at night before we flew back. But we also did not celebrate all that hard because we have not achieved anything. We still do not know if we will be playing in the next round.”

What role do the fans play for you and your team? We get the impression that there is a strong bond there.

“Patriotism is something that is very pronounced for us. It means a lot for us to be able to bring joy to our people, because outside of football we do not have all that many flagships. Football brings the people together.”

How do you proceed now? Your place in the Round of 16 is not secured yet.

“We will have regular training but we will not specifically analyze one opponent or the other. Those are matters that we will discuss if we advance. A lot of things have to fall in order for us to have a chance. If it comes to that we will have to be prepared.”

Your team has been receiving praise particularly for the commitment, heart, and fighting mentality. How do you see your group matches in hindsight?

“Those are exactly the attributes we strive for. We sacrifice a lot. There is no hierarchy in this team. Our captain did not play against Romania and it was not a problem for him. There is no vanity. Everything we do is with the goal in mind that we can make our people proud and happy. I think this is something that will always push you forwards, regardless of whether you are a goal down or a man down. But you also cannot limit us simply to our drive. We can play good football as well.”

What was missing in your first two games?

“When you see all of the chances we were not able to convert against France and Switzerland then it may indicate a lack of quality. But it is interesting to see that our fans understand this. For a small country like ours it would be a major step to be even with teams like France or Switzerland.”

With what kind of mindset and strategy did you approach this tournament? 

“Our coach is a hothead and his temper is what distinguishes him. But you do not need to fire us up. Whether it is the European championship or a friendly match, we are always willing to give it our all for the national team. What we need more of is tactical discipline because many of us lack the experience. It is also a character trait of the Balkan people to become lax, so that is something the coach tries to prevent.”

At 30 years of age you are one of the most experienced players. You have played every minute thus far. How do you rate your performances?

“It is not for me to rate myself. Others should do that. What matters to me are the facts. We have three points, but we also lost two games.”

Will you be disappointed if you do not make the Round of 16, or still proud of what you were able to achieve?

“We are very, very proud. How the team performed, how the fans presented themselves, the strong connection between the team and the fans – those things alone make this a win for me. We showed Europe that Albania is capable of playing football and that we can make the headlines for positive reasons. All in all I think Albania has won as a country, regardless of whether we make the next round or not.”

Final question: In 14 days 1. FC Köln will begin preparations for the new season. Are you excited about it or are your thoughts still centered on Euro 2016?

“Of course I am excited about FC. When you are elsewhere you learn to appreciate the things you have at home. I am very excited to come back. I would love to say: ‘as soon as possible.’ But I would also enjoy a few days of vacation first.”

keywords:

Mergim Mavraj Albania Euro 2016
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