‘We didn’t want to get killed’ – Celina opens up about his Kosovo roots
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Ipswich Town loan star Bersant Celina has opened up about his family fleeing war-torn Kosovo as a child.
Celina was born in the historic city of Prizen and two years later, in 1998, came the Kosovo War, a 16-month conflict between the Republics of Montenegro and Serbia and a Kosovo Albanian rebel group with support from NATO.
Various estimates of the number of civilian casualties have been announced through the years – some as high as seven to nine thousand – while almost a million Kosovo Albanians are thought to have fled during that period.
Celina’s parents were among those to leave the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, setting up home in Drammen, Norway.
“I was two when we moved to Norway because of what happened in the ex-Yugoslavia,” explained Bersant, now 21.
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“People died, people were getting killed – it’s the worst thing that can happen. That was the reason we left, we didn’t want to get killed.”
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Celina had represented Norway from Under-15 to U21 level, but when Kosovo finally became a member of UEFA and FIFA in May 2016 he committed his allegiance to them.
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“I grew up in Norway, so I felt Norwegian when I lived there,” said Celina. “Obviously I knew I was from a different country.
“When it came to choosing between playing for Norway and Kosovo it was a hard decision for me.
“As a kid I wanted to play for Norway, but we didn’t have a Kosovan national team then and I didn’t know it was going to happen.
“Then we got the national team and it just changed everything.
“My parents didn’t say anything. It was up to me and what I felt and that’s what I felt.”
Now with six senior caps to his name, he continued: “It feels different (playing for Kosovo) because of what everyone has been through. Everyone in the team has their own stories from their families. It’s just an amazing honour to be able to play for them.
“We have a lot of young talent and some good players. It’s going to take time for us to get into the big competitions, but I think it will happen.”
Signed by Manchester City at the age of 15, Celina recalls: “When I first moved over my dad came and lived with me for six months, then I went into digs. It was really difficult for me. There were a lot of times when I really wanted to go back to Norway, but my hard work and dedication kept me going and things got better and better.
“Dad is my biggest fan. He’s always been there for me and I appreciate that. He’s always there to watch me and support me.”