Lorik Cana On Sunderland, PSG, Marseille, Lazio And Success With Albania

Lorik Cana On Sunderland, PSG, Marseille, Lazio And Success With Albania

An interview with Lorik Cana, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You started your professional career at Paris St German in 2000. What was your experience of the club like?

“It was a good experience for me because my childhood was split between Kosovo and Switzerland. It was in Switzerland that I started to play football with FC Lausanne–Sport which is where I was spotted by PSG when I was 16.

“I grasped the opportunity to go there on trial, it went well and I was signed by the club.

“Being part of such a big club at a young age enabled me to train and learn from players such as Ronaldinho, Nicolas Anelka, Gabriel Heinze, Jay-Jay Okacha and many others.

“I knew that having players like those I have mentioned as established first-team players meant that it would be tough for an academy player like myself to break into the first team. Tough although not impossible.

“I was determined to make it and thankfully I was able to represent the first team which was a proud moment for me and my family.”

You won the Coupe de France as part of the PSG squad in 2004. How special was it to achieve such success with the first team given your academy background?

“It was fantastic for me to be able to represent the first team and to go on and win a trophy was a dream come true.

“I made my debut alongside Ronaldinho the year prior to the final in 2004 and playing alongside him was such a thrill for me. He was an extraordinary footballer.

“During the year of the cup success, I was playing regularly in the first team for the first team which was amazing for me because not many players win a trophy in their first real year as a professional.”

You swapped PSG for their rivals Marseille in 2005. Was that move controversial at the time?

“The story behind the move was simple.

“I had played in the Champions League and won the cup with PSG but as an academy product, I never felt that I would be seen as a first pick for the first team because I was still a young player.

“Added to that, I was a fan of Marseille from my time growing up in Switzerland in the early 90’s as I watched them lift the European Cup in 1992.

“Marseille is the only French side that I would have left PSG for and as a young player, it was a move that brought challenges with the rivalry of both clubs but I have no regrets about moving there.”

You go on to captain Marseille, reach two cup finals with the club and play in the Champions League. How would you sum up your time at the club as a whole?

“I loved my time at the club and it was a successful period.

“We were not in the Champions League regularly when I arrived alongside players such as Franck Ribery, Mamadou Niang and others.

“However, arriving with those players seemed to help the team a lot as we went on to establish ourselves as a Champions League club by finishing in the top three of Ligue 1 during my time at the club.

“Reaching two cup finals with the club was special however losing such an occasion is never nice for a player.

“The only regret I have from my time at the club was my last season when we finished second in Ligue 1 behind Bordeaux.

“I felt that season was a missed opportunity for us to win the title as we had a strong team and played well in the season but Bordeaux managed to win their final eleven games which was vital to their success.

“Despite that, I have great memories from my time at the club. The fans were great with me and I achieved a boyhood dream of representing  Marseille and I loved every opportunity that I had to walk out at the stadium as a Marseille player.”

You moved to Sunderland of the Premier League from Marseille in 2009. How did that move occur?

“To be honest, heading into the summer of 2009, I knew that I would be leaving Marseille after there were a number of changes at the club that I was not happy with.

“Before going to Sunderland, I actually thought that I was going to sign for Hamburg of the Bundesliga.

“The deal was agreed between both clubs and with myself but Hamburg pulled the plug at the last minute with not only myself but other players they were planning to sign for whatever reason.

“Following the breakdown of that move, I had other options in the Bundesliga or going to play in the Premier League at Sunderland.

“In the past, I had been linked with Liverpool when Rafa Benitez was manager, I had some contact with Arsene Wenger when he was at Arsenal and David Moyes when he was at Everton.

“However, in terms of making a concrete move, Steve Bruce and Sunderland pushed hard to sign me and I decided to join Sunderland.

“Playing in England was something that I always wanted to do so when the opportunity to play in the Premier League with Sunderland arrived, I took it and made the move, particularly after speaking with Steve Bruce.

“He really impressed me with his manner and approach when I met him before signing. I loved his passion for football and I left my meeting with him knowing that I wanted to play for him.”

What was your experience of the Premier League like compared to your time in French football?

“The Premier League is the best league in the world with the best football in the world.

“I know that is said a lot but everyone in England lives and breathes football. I felt that right away.

“The stadiums were fantastic and the fans followed the game from start to finish by cheering for something as simple as a tackle in midfield.

“Any time I had to make a challenge, it was as if the crowd were making it with me and I had not experienced that too often in the past.

“Sunderland as a club was exactly as I had expected having spoken to Steve Bruce and we had a decent season by finishing 13th in the table.

“Unfortunately, I suffered a bad groin injury at Christmas which impacted me physically in the second half of that season.

“I ended up leaving the club at the end of that season but I have nothing but good memories of Sunderland and the fans. They are extraordinary fans and people who love their club dearly.”

After one season in England, you moved to Turkey with Galatasaray where you played under Frank Rijkaard. What was the reasoning behind that move?

“After my season at Sunderland, I felt good and I was caught between staying for another year and moving on to a bigger club.

“In the end, Galatasaray made a move for me and they are a massive football club.

“They were founded by an Albanian so I had a link to the club in a way which also drew me towards the move. It felt like too good an opportunity to turn down.

“It was a challenging time when I arrived in Turkey because the club did not qualify for Europe and the financial situation was impacted by that.

“Things did not go as well in the league for us either as we finished 8th which made me want to return to a top five European league which I had the opportunity to do with Lazio.”

You went on win the Coppa Italia with Lazio by defeating their arch-rivals Roma in the final. Can you sum up how that felt for you and all around you at the club?

“It was one of the best moments of my career. Without doubt.

“The fans wanted nothing more than to defeat Roma and by beating them in the final of the Coppa Italia thanks to a goal from Senad Lulić, we became living legends in the eyes of the fans.

“It was the first cup final between Lazio and Roma which made our victory even sweeter. It was a moment of history and so important to everyone at the club.

“I still live in Rome today and not a day goes by without someone reminding me of that final in 2013 and the success we achieved.

“I am very proud to be a part of Lazio history in that sense.”

Finally, Lorik, you represented Albania on over 90 occasions and captained the country as well. How much do those appearances mean to you and your family?

“As a young kid, I dreamed of playing international football for Albania.

“The national team became a symbol of our nation and to represent the flag meant so much to me.

“I was part of the team when we qualified for our first major tournament which was Euro 2016 and that was an achievement beyond my imagination.

“To achieve historic success like that with my country was the biggest success of my career.”