De Biasi, an Italian in the European Championship with Albanian Passport
By By Bledar Kuka
Albanian Daily News
Published December 21, 2015

It was the morning of December 14, 2011, the day when Gianni De Biasi signed the contract to become the coach of the Albanian National team. No one had ever imagined such a particular moment as the right one for the history of Albanian football, had been waiting for. It was neither thought by the journalists, the public opinion, nor by the man who was sitting next to him, right at the table of the Press Conference room at the Albanian Football Association (FSHF), the President Armando Duka.

The enthusiasm to achieve something important was great, without thinking about the finals of a major tournament, but only about the fact to be considered potential contenders to reach the goal, such a continuous objective, uninterrupted, cycle after cycle and decade after decade.  

Those who have been and do still remain football stars inside the territory of 28,000 square kilometres within our country, were not able to do miracles. It is not yet known whether De Biasi believed or not in this big goal, a goal which he did not want to mention. 

Even though he was a professional, arriving from a country like Italy where football was on the top and highly praised, he still was not so sure of the goal to be reached. He was knocking on the door of the "unknown", especially in a period when the Albanian National team was passing through moments of crisis. 

What about Armando Duka? Did he really put his trust in the new coach and his abilities? The President, was just the typical Albanian character after the year '90. He was the best example of that class of people who came out of the water successfully, in an era full of chaos, where the rule of law was missing, during a brain drain transition period, during an era when people wandered aimless without knowing what to do with the freedom they had been offered. 

Exactly in this period, individuals like Armando Duka knew exactly what their aim was and they reached to succeed following their goals.  

Does the well-known phrase of Pope Urban fit this occasion. After Cardinal Richelieu passed away, over 300 years ago, Pope Urban said: "If God exists, then the Cardinal should give account, if not, it means that he has been a successful man during his lifetime".

But let us return to our story. If such a man had complete trust he would achieve to lead the Albanian National team on the way towards the World Cup or towards the European Championship Final Draw 2016. Why? 

Despite the personality limits due to the country he represented and the level of cultural education he had cultivated, Armando Duka could not have achieved success if he did not have high self-esteem. 

Armando Duka would soon change the face of the Football Association. He reached to establish his unwavering authority, firstly because of the "scary" wealth he and his brother Agron Duka owned, and secondly because of the belief that was soon created by everyone around that he might have a steady position there. 

He reached to cement his power by withdrawing people who served only as "spongers". He used his intelligence, irony and cynic style, but never a harsh and loud tone of voice.  

He reached to approach much closer relations with UEFA, especially with Michel Francois Platini. These relations seemed more extraordinary in the Albanian football, overwhelmingly by those people who had dreamt to go abroad during the era of Enver Hoxha.

So, he was the man who had picked up Gianni De Biasi, to lead the Albanian National team. In the past he had tested other famous coaches who were not known at all, humble and presumptuous, capable and incapable, of Italian, German and Dutch nationality. There were also two of Croatian nationality. Some were of an old age, some young and finally he arrived to a conclusion. 

Albania needed a coach who's not a notorious one, because he was afraid that kind of coach would not give account to him any further. He did not prefer either an unpopular one, as the latter would lack the right competences to reach the pre-established goals. He was convinced the coach he would hire should have good experience, would be energetic, with the willingness and strong desire to achieve his goals and win. He needed a coach to have the appetite to win, and the only man who responded to this identikit, was Gianni De Biasi.

When De Biasi arrived in Albania, at a critical age of 55 years old, he brought with him positive experiences, which were not at the level of Italy and Spain. The coach from Sarmede knew exactly that this was the right moment to shine in his career, and not to remain in the history of football as just a simple coach. 

De Biasi was not to be underestimated, as far as he had leaded a team like Modena, picking it up from the darkness of the "3rd Hell's circle", therefore "Serie C" and positioning it in "Serie A", in two years time only. He had also taken Torino from "Serie B" with the intention to include this club among the clubs' elite. 

Then, he turned back again to Torino, which was passing a black financial crisis, and reached to hold it in "Serie A". Afterwards, being cold-hearted he abandoned Torino club under the Presidency of Urbano Roberto Cairo.

Unfortunately, ultimate players of the Albanian National team at that time were only some of the "old glories" at the end of the career, such as: Lala, Skela, Duro or Bogdani, while the "veterans" comprised: Strakosha, Aliaj, Cipi, Murati, Tare, Rraklli, Hasi and Bushi, had all left. 

However, De Biasi, was determined to exploit his last given chance. He shared his responsibilities  among his trusted assistant, the former player of Inter club, Paolo Tramezzani, and begun his work, focusing on the map of Europe, on the European clubs where Albanian players were currently playing. 

They concentrated on Switzerland, Germany and Italy. 

Helped even by the destiny, considering the fact that in the said continent there were many players of Albanian origin of foreign passports. Their age corresponded as well. They gathered one by one the selected players, such as: Mavraj, Basha, Meha, Kukeli, Abrashi, Rama and Etrit Berisha. Afterwards, were tested Hyka, Balaj, Cani, Memushaj, Gashi, Taulant Xhaka, Ajeti, Aliji and in the end Gjimshiti.

The selection phase lasted 3-4 years,  slowly, step by step. Disappointments were also present during the period of selection, but the team was more complete and more secure than before. Immediately after the 1-2 defeat in the friendly match against Georgia which was played in Tbilisi, he wrote a letter to all the players, giving each of them a "cold shower". 

"Today we take a new path, no matter the time we have spent working together. What really counts today is that starting by now we shall lay the foundations to become a big team," was written in the letter addressed to the players.

De Biasi was really firm in his letter: "I will give you the opportunity to go out on the field and become great, just like heroes fight in their own land."

In the letter he explained to Albanians his philosophy: "Victories are prepared but it doesn't mean that the bravest ones do always win." 

Based on this philosophy, in spite of the failure at the final qualifying tour for World Cup 2014, Albanian team leaded by De Biasi could reach to challenge Portugal, Denmark, Serbia and Armenia under a strain and suffering situation. The Albanian team managed to qualify for the Euro 2016 Final Draw, against all odds.

De Biasi had believed in the transformation of his team, which brought this miracle. Under his lead a record was also registered in the FIFA ranking, where Albanian team was positioned no. 22. This summer they reached to win in Portugal, and a draw in Denmark and face "hell" as well in Belgrade. 

In four years, his pride was put in competition not only against the opponents but also against his own president.  This man landed in Albania not only to win on the field, but also to "win the bank". 

He had made a silent deal with Armando Duka, a deal where he came out neither as a looser nor a winner.  

This happened because his President, is a master in business agreements. The President provided the right contract at the right time. Moreover, when De Biasi's contract was renewed in 2013, the coach was clear expressing these textual words at the press conference: "I tried to make the President surrender, but he did not feel the fatigue because he is a marathoner". 

Even after the Euro 2016 qualification, there was a "battle" in the distance, where De Biasi expressed himself tactically for the Italian media, saying that the contract needs perhaps be reviewed, but he was confronted with the steady stance of Duka. 

In the end, they both shook hands in Tirana, mentioning even the contract which lasts until 2017, leaving the final word to the final tourney, after the UEFA European Championship 2016. 

The President, Duka was sure that De Biasi would not leave before Euro 2016,  because he would not deprive himself of the most exciting experience of his whole career. Nevertheless, the President might risk to remain without his coach only after Euro 2016 which will take place in France. 

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