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Meet the Albanian striker who hails from... Berkshire! Chelsea's Armando Broja was born in Slough and admits facing ...

JOE BERNSTEIN: One Albanian will speak English as fluently as any of the players called upon by Gareth Southgate for their World Cup qualifier on Sunday evening.
Meet the Albanian striker who hails from... Berkshire! Chelsea's Armando Broja was born in Slough and admits facing England will be special as he bids to down Gareth Southgate's men in their World Cup qualifier
  • Armando Broja won his fourth cap for Albania during their 1-0 win over Andorra
  • The Chelsea and Albania striker has been on loan at Vitesse Arnham this season
  • Broja turned down the chance to play for England under 19's to play for Albania 
  • The teenager striker has been likened to Chelsea team mate Tammy Abraham

By Joe Bernstein for The Mail on Sunday

Published: 23:56 BST, 27 March 2021 | Updated: 12:17 BST, 28 March 2021

One Albanian will speak English as fluently as any of the players called upon by Gareth Southgate for their World Cup qualifier.

Teenage striker Armando Broja was born and raised in Slough, 1600 miles from Sunday's venue Tirana, and has been a Chelsea player since he was 10-years-old, spending this season on loan with Vitesse Arnhem.

Broja, whose Albanian parents settled in England, won his fourth cap in Thursday’s 1-0 win against Andorra but meeting his “home” country will be special on many levels.

Teenage striker Armando Broja was born in England but will line up against them for Albania
Teenage striker Armando Broja was born in England but will line up against them for Albania

Teenage striker Armando Broja was born in England but will line up against them for Albania

Broja has been at Chelsea since he was 10 and named Didier Drogba as his favourite player
Broja has been at Chelsea since he was 10 and named Didier Drogba as his favourite player

Broja has been at Chelsea since he was 10 and named Didier Drogba as his favourite player

‘I am British but also Albanian. Most of my family are still over there and it’s my blood,’ he says.

‘England wanted me for the under-19s but Albania gave me a chance to be a full international. I’m happy with the choice. We’ve got talented players. They qualified for Euro 2016 and we can go to a major tournament again.

‘I know England’s Chelsea players quite well. I trained with Mason Mount and Reece James for six months last season and we speak regularly on Instagram. We’ll talk after the game which will be nice.

‘People call Mason a manager’s dream, and he is. They can put him in any position and he’ll work really hard and do what they ask. A team can rely on him to get them out of the mud when needed.’

Broja has trained with Chelsea team mates Mason Mount (left) and Reece James (right)
Broja has trained with Chelsea team mates Mason Mount (left) and Reece James (right)

 Broja has trained with Chelsea team mates 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 recalls speaking Albanian in the house as he learned English from school and television. 

‘Knowing the national anthem or talking to my team-mates is no hassle,’ he smiles.

His football potential didn’t take long to shine. Spurs spotted him playing in a junior tournament aged eight. After two years with them, Chelsea wanted him too. As a boyhood Blues fan, it wasn’t a difficult decision.

‘It had always been a dream to play for Chelsea. My mum’s cousin Mirel was crazy about them and would take me to Stamford Bridge for games,’ says Broja.

‘Didier Drogba was my favourite player – I remember him scoring one goal with this great turn and left-foot volley - and I saw a lot of the home games when they won the Champions League in 2012. I went to cup finals at Wembley as well.’

Broja, who was named in honour of his dad's favourite player Diego Armando Maradona, is tall and rangy like another Chelsea forward, Tammy Abraham, though pacier.

The family have moved home to near Chelsea’s training ground in Cobham and he made his senior debut as a substitute against Everton last season. 

Broja has been likened  in terms of playing style to fellow Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham
Broja has been likened  in terms of playing style to fellow Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham

Broja has been likened  in terms of playing style to fellow Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham

He’s currently following in the footsteps of many other Blues players including Nemanja Matic and Mount himself by developing in Holland.

Broja has scored nine goals in the Dutch Eredivisie despite having to cope with a Covid environment that included an 8pm curfew at one point. 

That restriction have since been lifted so he’s allowed to meet up with team-mates for a takeaway or walks as an alternative to gaming.

Back at Stamford Bridge, there is a stellar cast keeping an eye on his progress.

ALBANIA FACTFILE

Population: 2.8million

FIFA Ranking: 66

Previous major tournaments: Euro 2016 (group stages)

Record v England: P4 W0 D0 L4 (all World Cup qualifiers)

Last game v England: A 2-0 away defeat in 2001. Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler scored.

Famous Albanian heritage: Dua Lipa, John Belushi, Mother Theresa. 

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‘Chelsea use former players to help deal with the loans,’ he explains. ‘I speak to Tore Andre Flo and Carlo Cudicini. 

'They can’t come to see me play at the moment but we have group chats. They analyse 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 he should play in 2021/22.

Before then however, facing England will be special. ‘It is going to be good. I’ll have a few emotions. It is a game you don’t want to miss,’ he acknowledges.

‘We have a lot of talented players. Marash Kumbulla, the defender from Roma, is very good (Kumbulla will miss the England game with a knee injury). 

So is Berat Djimsiti of Atalanta. It should be an interesting game and hopefully we can come away with the win. We will work hard and see.

‘Albania is a country with a lot of history in general, not just football. They have been to war several times. They have had a really tough 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, parties around the country. My Dad went over from England to France to support the team though I couldn’t go because I was playing in a tournament.

‘For Albania, reaching the World Cup would be even bigger. The whole country would be united, it would be special.’

MEET THE ALBANIAN'S  

Albania have lost all four previous encounters against England but are no longer international minnows. The Eagles reached the finals of Euro 2016 and finished third in their last World Cup qualifying group behind Spain and Italy.

THE MISSING JEWEL - MARASH KUMBULLA

Aged 21, the centre-back has impressed on loan from Verona to Roma this season and helped them reach the Europa League quarter-finals.Strong in the air and a composed passer. Linked with Spurs but injured his knee against Andorra and returned to Italy.

THE SURVIVOR - ERMIR LENJANI

Part of Albania’s Euro 2016 team that beat Romania after defeats to Switzerland and France. Grasshoppers wing-back scored winner against Andorra last week and celebrated with a somersault.

THE TRICKSTER - REY MANAJ

Barcelona B forward who will be main attacking danger to England. Began his career at Inter Milan and at 24, still has time to make it. Has scored in each of Albania’s last two home games.

THE GOALIE CAPTAIN - ETRIT BERISHA

Now 32, Berisha has spent the last eight years playing in Italy, once of Lazio and Atalanta and now in Serie B with SPAL. Can expect a busier time against Harry Kane than he did against Andorra

THE BIG-GAME EXPERIENCE – BERAT DJIMSITI

Defender has faced Europe’s top clubs including Real Madrid, PSG and Manchester City during Atalanta’s Champions League exploits over the past couple of years. In his prime at 28.

THE TECHNICIAN – KEIDI BARE

23-year-old Espanyol midfielder created the pass that got Albania off to a winning start in their World Cup campaign. Started his career at Atletico Madrid and then spent two seasons with Malaga

THE MANAGER – EDOARDO REJA

At 75, the Italian is two years older than Roy Hodgson and has adapted well to international management after working for 22 different clubs including Napoli. 

Still looks good on the touchline. His assistant Sergio Porrini played for Rangers between 1997 and 2001.

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