Kuqi faces army duty
IPSWICH striker Shefki Kuqi risks having his career put on hold by national service.The Finnish international - Town's joint leading scorer this season with 10 goals - must serve six months in the army before his 30th birthday.
By Dave Vincent
IPSWICH striker Shefki Kuqi risks having his career put on hold by national service.
The Finnish international - Town's joint leading scorer this season with 10 goals - must serve six months in the army before his 30th birthday.
It means the player, who was 28 last month, will receive a military call-up before November 2006.
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And, with his Portman Road contract due to run out at the end of the season, the prospect of Ipswich losing him for 180 days is bound to affect any future negotiations about a new deal to extend his stay in Suffolk.
Town boss Joe Royle said: “I am completely unaware of this and I will have to speak to Shefki to see what he knows of the situation.
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“My first thought is whether it might be possible to do it in two stages of three months each - in other words two summers.”
A spokeswoman for the Finnish Embassy in London said: “It is the law that any Finnish male citizen is obliged to serve in the army for a period of 180 days. It can be postponed, but not beyond the age of 30.”
Asked if it might be possible to divide the period into two three-month stints, she replied: “It would require a special application. He would have to contact the military with the proposal.”
Kuqi has been quoted in Finnish newspapers as saying he intends to delay his national service until after his career in football is over.
The Kuqi family - mother, father and five children - fled from Kosovo to Finland during the Balkan conflict when Shefki was 12.
Ironically, it was because one of his brothers was within a week of being called up by the military that his parents decided to escape the country when they did.
The fact that Kuqi was born in Kosovo is irrelevant.
A Finnish military website confirmed: “A foreigner who has been granted Finnish citizenship is liable for national service in exactly the same way as native citizens of Finland.”
His younger brother, Njazi, who has signed for Birmingham City and is due to launch his Premiership career next month, will also be affected.
There are a number of Finnish stars elsewhere in the English game, among them goalkeepers Antti Niemi of Southampton and Bolton's Jussi Jaaskelainen, who are in the same boat.
A sports journalist in Finland said: “This really is a problem and I don't know how they will solve it.
“Normally you need a medical or a mental reason to get an exemption. Shefki told me that he would like to do his military service after his career, but in Finland you have to do it before the 30th birthday. It's the law.
“I don't know if it is possible for Shefki to give away his Finnish passport. If it is, what would his status be then as a player in England? There could be a working licence problem.
“Six months in the army could ruin Shefki's career in England, and at a time when he is playing the best football of his life.
“I think the Finnish Football Federation should work to solve this problem, but I'm not sure if they are doing anything.”