Despite more than 100 goals scored in England, Shefki Kuqi fesses up to his weaknesses
Finland's Kosovo-born cult striker hopes for a coaching career after he retires from the game
By Tero Hakola
The imposingly-large Finnish striker Shefki Kuqi has scored more than a hundred goals in the English leagues at various levels, and he exhibits no signs of slowing down.
A month ago, Kuqi, 35, signed a contract with Edinburgh's Hibernian, one of the top teams in the Scottish Premier League.
Kuqi still has years left in his footballing career, provided that he remains healthy.
“I will continue to play as long as I have the energy to do it. I will quit when I can no longer get out of the bed in the morning without pain”, Kuqi laughs. Judging by his facial expression, so far his muscles are still in pretty decent shape.
Shefki Kuqi both delights and infuriates football enthusiasts.
For the fans of skilful football, Kuqi’s stiffness and clumsy ball-control are like poison.
When playing for the Finnish Veikkausliiga team Jokerit, Kuqi once allegedly blasted a penalty right out of the entire stadium.
Depending on who is telling the story, the ball either flew completely over the roof of the end stand or through a narrow gap between the stand and its roof.
“With my skills level, perhaps I should not have turned out even in the Finnish league”, Kuqi muses.
Kuqi has compensated for his acknowledged weaknesses on the ball with a never-say-die attitude that warms the heart.
He rushes into situations, fights tenaciously, and in so doing he has scored an abundance of goals on the side.
His nickname “The Flying Finn” does not refer to his speed over the ground but to his way of celebrating scored goals (see picture for evidence).
“I trust myself, I am always in good physical shape, and I work hard for the team. When receiving a pass I am not afraid to intercept with my head when others try to play with their feet. That's probably why I have broken my nose a couple of times”, Kuqi lists his strengths.
Kuqi’s achievements have naturally earned the man his place in Finnish football history.
The current Finnish national football team players can only dream of having scored seven goals in a single season in the English Premiership. Kuqi did it for Blackburn Rovers in 2005-2006.
On Saturday, Kuqi took part in the "Respect" football match organised in Helsinki by the Finnish FA to honour distinguished Finnish footballers from the recent past.
Only living legend Jari Litmanen received louder cheers from the audience than Kuqi, who enjoys cult status of a sort among his fans.
Kuqi was a regular face in the Finnish national team for ten years, but was overshadowed up front by Mikael Forssell. He scored goals in a Finnish shirt, too, but many only choose to remember the blunders.
The international matches gave Kuqi strength for the club-level battles.
“The national team experiences always rankled with me afterwards in one way or another. I was never given a proper chance. I didn't make the opening line-up in consecutive games. Instead I would come in as a second-half subsistite, often late in the game. Then I ended up trying too hard”, Kuqi still frets.
Now Kuqi’s brother Njazi, 29, represents the family in the Finnish national team, nicknamed Huuhkajat (“Eagle Owls”). Njazi was playing in the World Cup qualifier against France last Friday, and has a club contract with Atromitos in the Greek Super League.
An even younger brother Albert, 20, in turn, plays for the Veikkausliiga team FC Haka of Valkeakoski.
“To be perfectly honest with you, I would have made it further had I had Nasse’s skills. Then again, he, too, would be playing with a better team if he had my attitude and strength”, Kuqi analyses.
Kuqi has never seen his youngest brother Albert in real action on the field.
“When the season in Finland is in full swing, I have spent time with the family, holidayed, and practiced”, Kuqi explains, with a touch of embarrassment.
Kuqi is originally a Kosovo Albanian. His family fled the Balkan wars to Finland in the early 1990s.
Kuqi regularly visits his birthplace. He met his wife there in 2005 and the couple now have two daughters. After finishing his footballing career, Kuqi may well bring his family to live in Finland.
“There is a peaceful atmosphere here. Furthermore, my parents and many of my friends live here. It is difficult to imagine a better place than Finland to raise one’s children. I have seen and experienced all sorts of things”, Kuqi says, and you know what he means.
Kugi has also given thought to his future employment.
“I have studied coaching for a couple of years now in England. I believe that I have a lot to give in that respect.”
Right now, however, his goal is to help Hibernian to reach the top in the Scottish League.
He joined the club in the summer from Oldham Athletic on a one-year deal.
Hibs are currently quite nicely placed in 3rd spot behind surprise leaders Motherwell and hot favourites for the title Celtic.
The Edinburgh side recently forced a 2-2 draw away to Celtic, but Shefki's services were not called upon by the manager
Kuqi reckons he will reach his fitness peak in a couple of weeks’ time. Then things should start to happen.
“The manager gives advice. My job is to score goals.”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 11.9.2012
More on this subject:
WHO? Shefki Kuqi
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finland 0 - France 1: Another day, another dolour for the fans...(10.9.2012)
Respect football match to honour distinguished Finnish footballers in September (11.4.2012)
Shefki Kuqi (Wikipedia)
TERO HAKOLA / Helsingin Sanomat