'They know where I am' - Town favourite Kuqi applies for Ipswich job

Shefki Kuqi hopes to return to Ipswich as manager one day. Picture: FC Inter Turku / Tero Wester

Shefki Kuqi hopes to return to Ipswich as manager one day. Picture: FC Inter Turku / Tero Wester - Credit: Archant

Former Ipswich Town striker Shefki Kuqi has applied for the club’s managerial vacancy. 

The Finn, a fans’ favourite between 2002 and 2005, has been looking for his first manager’s job in English football for several years, having previously taken charge of a trio of clubs in his adopted homeland. 

Kuqi also applied for the Town job in 2018, following Mick McCarthy’s exit and prior to the arrival of Paul Hurst, putting together a detailed plan but ultimately not securing an interview from former owner Marcus Evans. 

He’s been liked with a number of jobs in League One and Two since then, without getting hired, but has now thrown his hat in the ring at Portman Road once again following Paul Cook’s exit. 

Shefki Kuqi celebrates after scoring for Ipswich Town in his own unique way. Photo: Colin Shaw

Shefki Kuqi's trademark celebration

“I did put my application in,” he told BBC Radio Suffolk. “I told them where I am, they know where I am. 

“I’ve been following things very closely, I’ve been to loads of games and I believe strongly I know what needs to be changed. 

“I’ve always said I had the best time of my career at Ipswich Town. Since I’ve become a manager, I’ve followed very closely and I believe I know exactly what’s going on there, what the problems are and what needs to get done.” 

Discussing the club’s supporters, Kuqi said: “Those people are passionate about the club. 

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“And they come in there and they support you. And when they give everything, they even push you a little bit to that extra edge. 

“Because of that connection, no disrespect to any players because everybody tries their best, but when you’ve not got those local boys there who know what that club means and what that badge means, that’s a different feeling. I just don’t see that that’s there right now.” 

Interim manager John McGreal, a former team-mate of Kuqi’s, is likely to lead the Blues once again this weekend when they travel to Wigan Athletic. 

Town CEO Mark Ashton has begun an ‘extensive search’ for the club’s new boss, with dozens of applications arriving within the first 72 hours of the job becoming available. 

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The following interview with Kuqi was published in KINGS OF ANGLIA magazine in the spring of 2017

SHEFKI’S STORY

Shefki Kuqi is a man with a plan. That plan, he hopes, will one day see him in the dugout at Portman Road.

With his playing career now over, the football history books show a journeyman striker who represented 11 British clubs during his playing career, with some success. But that is only part of the Kuqi story, with plenty more still to come.

Kuqi’s route to playing football in England is well documented. His family fled Kosovo in 1989 to ensure his older brother did not need to complete national service at a time of persecution and great unrest in the region, with the Kuqis forced to leave their friends, family and home behind and quietly work their way, undetected, through what was Yugoslavia in order to seek asylum in Finland.

Shefki Kuqi has watched three Ipswich Town games in recent weeks. Picture: Steve Waller www.st

Former Ipswich Town striker Shefki Kuqi - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

His is a story which puts football into perspective and means any trouble he has faced on his way up and down the game’s pyramid, quite frankly, pales into insignificance. While there were tough times as he looked to make the grade in Finland and then left home again to embark on a career in England, the hardest stage of his journey will always remain his first.

But fast forward nearly 30 years and now, managing in his adopted homeland, the Ipswich Town cult hero faces new challenges as he attempts to build his career on the touchline, which now sees him in charge of Inter Turku.

It’s his third role since returning home, with the previous two ensuring a steep learning curve. His spells at FC Honka and PK-35 Vantaa paint a picture of the harsh realities of life managing outside Europe’s major leagues, with financial trouble and off-field issues forcing Kuqi to dig into his own pockets at times to ensure survival.

He was successful, though, securing promotion to the top flight with a Vantaa side which included a certain Pablo Counago and then earning the top job at Inter, with the season beginning in the spring.

While feeling great pride to be in charge of a club the size of Inter, Kuqi’s horizons are not limited to the Finnish Veikkausliga. He would love to return to England, where he also played for the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Blackburn, Crystal Palace and Newcastle, with a reunion with Ipswich high on his agenda.

Now aged 40, the Finn knows he has more to learn but, given the managers he has worked under during his playing career and his tough start to life as a boss, he believes he has garnered a great deal and is as prepared as he can possibly be.

“Football, when you stop playing, is hard,” he said. “I loved playing football but the thing is you can’t play forever. In those last couple of years I played for so many different clubs of different sizes and with different managers who came from different backgrounds.

“Some were British, some were foreign so I’ve been very lucky to meet these different kinds of people. I have so many memories from England, some good and some bad, but I knew I wanted to be a manager.

“I kept lots of things from different people and now I’m in this role I keep doing it. It was quite easy for me to decide what to do when I finish playing. For me, in football I don’t think there is right and wrong and some things work with some managers in certain situations and then not in others. That doesn’t mean it will work for you.

“From England I worked with Joe Royle who was a really nice guy, a top guy and a great manager, then Mark Hughes whose presence was incredible every time he stepped into the changing room or onto the field. He played at Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona and Bayern Munich and he was a nice relaxing guy. How can you not learn from that?

“Paulo Sousa at Swansea, he was a different guy who had won the Champions League, then Brendan Rodgers at Swansea who was so organised in preparation and practice. Roy Hodgson, you could see he had so much experience and I’ve been so lucky.

“I have some bad ones. I don’t need to say their names but certain things work and certain ones don’t. Tactics can help you win the game but the players who step on the field make the big decisions.

“At Vantaa we were in the second division and got promoted but we had so many problems. It was so hard. We got into trouble and I had to try and bring in sponsors and deal with everything.

Shefki Kuqi shows off the 2003-05 Ipswich Town shirt. Picture: PAGEPIX

Former Ipswich Town striker Shefki Kuqi - Credit: Archant

“In my first club (Honka) I had to put my own money in, so this is the first time I’ve come into a club (at Inter) to try and build a team, I’ve been able to bring players in and haven’t had to worry too much about the other side of things like before.

“When your club is in financial trouble and the players aren’t being paid it’s really, really hard. Being the manager and being in the middle of all of that is hard and it’s tough to focus on the football, but on the other hand it’s being really good. It’s been a good learning curve and I am learning all the time.”

Kuqi is often seen as being alternative in Finland. While many managers wear tracksuits on the touchline, the former striker wears a suit. He likes it that way. But if things had gone differently in the summer he would already be managing in England, as he came extremely close to taking over of League One side Port Vale.

He has more lofty ambitions, though.

“For me, even here in Finland, from day one I’ve worn a suit for matches. That isn’t really very common in Finland and some people like it, some don’t but I think you work in training in the tracksuit and a match is special.

“That’s what you work all week for, for those couple of hours, so on that day it’s a suit. I have to say it’s surprised me how coaches and managers here have socks up to their knees, with shorts and a cap. That’s not me.

“I came to Finland because it was a good place to start, to get some experience, but you always have dreams. Being in England to play was a dream come true for me and it’s the same as a player and as a manager – I hope one day to get the chance.

“I’ve been for a couple of interviews and came really close to getting those jobs, but sometimes it’s not meant to be and I have no regrets. I’m in a good place at Inter, trying to get things organised and hopefully I’ll do a good job, get good results and hope that chance (in England) will come again.

“Ipswich is always there. You always dream, but one day I dream to get that chance to come back and manage Ipswich.

“That place, even the people nothing to do with the club, has always been very nice to me. I follow all the games, everything that happens and it’s been a bit disappointing to see them struggle.

“You are always learning and every day is a new challenge but until you try things it’s still difficult to say if it’s the right time. But what I’ve been through in the last three years will prepare me.

“I’ve not been in England for the last couple of years but I follow every game of the clubs and I know the football. I follow the transfers and I still feel very involved.

“If a certain opportunity comes I am ready. If I think I have a chance I will apply.”

The Flying Finn would certainly receive a standing ovation if he did return to Portman Road, be it in the away dugout or as manager of the Blues. He may have played for clubs in all four corners of the country, but it’s Ipswich he remembers most fondly.

In total he made just 92 appearances for the Blues, including an initial loan, a stunning permanent spell and an often forgotten second temporary move three years after originally leaving. He scored 32 goals in all, with 22 coming in a stunning 2004-05 season which saw the Blues narrowly miss out on promotion through the play-offs having led the Championship for so long.

It still hurts now. That second-successive play-off loss to West Ham spelt the end for Kuqi, who felt he had no option but to leave for the Premier League and Blackburn, even if a large part of him wanted to stay.

The memories, though, which remain so vivid, will last a lifetime.

“It means so much to me, it’s where everything for me started in England,’ he said. “The uphill part anyway, that’s where people started to notice me and I got some attention.

“It was a great time, but the only thing I’ve always said is how disappointing it was that we couldn’t finish it all. We were doing so well, we were top of the league and then I missed a couple of games and we lost two or three in a row.

“I will always remember with two games to go we played Leeds away, Wigan were playing at QPR and they were second. Wigan lost 4-0 and we drew at Leeds, but Darren Currie missed a chance when it was 1-1 and it was a great opportunity. If we had won that game it could have been so different, but we ended up going to Brighton having to win four or five and then hoping Wigan lost. It didn’t happen.

“West Ham were a horrible team for us, they beat us twice in the play-offs. If we had got promoted I think I would have stayed there many, many years. Then the chance to play in the Premiership came and that was a footballer’s dream.

“I remember having a chat with Dave, Dave Sheepshanks, and he said ‘Listen, I know you want to play Premier League but I’m not going to stop you going, but if you don’t sign with a Premier League club then please don’t do anything else without speaking to me again’. He said he was ready to do something he had never done for the club to keep me.

“But it was Blackburn and I had to take that decision.

Shefki Kuqi, one of Town's most successful November transfers, celebrates scoring at Sheffield Unite

Former Ipswich Town striker Shefki Kuqi

“There are so many good memories but I remember my first meeting with the players after I signed. I went first on loan and remember meeting the players at the hotel before the match. Joe told me I was going to start on the bench and that was fine, but that I could come on in the second half. We were losing 1-0, I came on and almost with my first touch I scored before Jim Magilton scored a beautiful chip as we won.

“After that we went seven games in a row winning and I still have the ‘Magnificent Seven’ DVD somewhere of all those wins.

“With Tommy Miller we used to plan celebrations all week and do different stuff, that was fun, and there are loads of good memories. I will never forget my time with Ipswich, it was such a special time.”

While a return to England, and possibly Portman Road, remains a dream, the job at hand will see Kuqi attempt to move Inter up the Finnish top flight table, having only narrowly avoided relegation in a play-off last season.

The campaign, which began in April, offers a fresh start for Kuqi as he prepares to work without the financial shackles which took up so much of his time at his two former clubs. He’s made a splash with the signing of former West Ham and Real Madrid midfielder Julian Faubert and this, he hopes will ensure a good season.

‘Turku are a massive club in Finland, a big club,” he said. “They were champions in 2008 but haven’t won since, they have good facilities and they are certainly the biggest club of the three I’ve managed in Finland.

“It’s very different to what I’ve been used to England, having been there for 13 years. The pre-season is good there because you have maybe six weeks and then you start the season, but here we work from January and the season then starts in April. It’s very, very long

“I missed out on players but we managed to sign Julien Faubert, who for me is the biggest signing Finland has ever made. For a guy who played in the Premier League and Real Madrid to come here is massive for Finnish football, then I also had discussions with a centre-back who played in the Premier League and we were close to that but it didn’t quite happen. It’s good to have those kind of contacts though.

“We had to fight to stay up last season but I have the feeling we will be fighting for something different this time.”

If Kuqi is as successful as he hopes to be, who knows where it will take him.




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