Arie Haan delivers a parting shot after quitting as coach of Albania

By Gezim Nushi in Tirana
“Albania are not Brazil,” declared Arie Haan, in the wake of the national team’s disappointing 0-0 draw with Malta in a World Cup qualifier in February. His words upset a lot of people and marked the beginning of the end of Haan’s tenure as Albania coach.

Haan’s comments precipitated a deterioration in relations between the Dutch coach and the national team, as tensions inevitably soured. A particularly sore point was the exclusion of Chievo forward Erjon Bogdani from Albania’s two most recent matches, against Hungary and Denmark.

Haan was keen for Bogdani, who is one of the few Albanians to play professionally overseas, to take the blame for the goalless draw in Malta. But the decision piled pressure on Haan as Albania prepared for two crucial qualifiers.

A 1-0 loss to Hungary in Tirana was followed four days by a humiliating 3-0 defeat in Denmark. The results left Albania seven points off second place in their qualifying group. It was curtains for Haan and he announced his resignation.

Since then, Haan has not stopped criticising Albanian football. In an interview for the Dutch weekly Voetbal International, Haan said: “I was never clear as to what the Albanians wanted from me. I was told almost point blank by the leaders of the Football Association either to qualify for the finals or to leave.

“In fact I was more of a team manager than a coach. It was clear that the team lacked even the most basic organisation. We often slept at hotels where there was no running water and the food was tasteless. But the last straw came before the match with Hungary. We could not use the stadium for training. We were allowed access to the premises only after the intervention of a government minister.”

The sharpest response to Haan’s comments came from the captain of the national team, Altin Lala. “I don’t find Haan’s declarations at all surprising,” he said. “ They just reveal his true character. I strongly believe that our divorce with him was inevitable.”

In fact Haan’s start with the Albanian national team had been very promising. The Dutchman, who had coached China and Cameroon in recent years, joined the team at the beginning of 2008 and enjoyed initial success. Albania drew 0-0 draw with Sweden and then beat Malta 3-0. Later they lost 2-0 to Hungary in Budapest with Hungary but held Portugal to 0-0 draw in Braga.

The draw with Portugal was one of the best ever results for the Albanian team but it raised false hopes. Some newspapers celebrated the Portuguese result by loudly boasting that under Haan’s guidance Albania’s dream of going into the World Cup finals would finally be realised.

It proved to be a short-lived dream. Now Albania have to start all over again. Arie Haan, from whom so much was expected, never understood the Albanian mindset; he was never on the same wavelength as his players.

Haan’s departure has rekindled the debate about whether the national team should be led by a local coach or foreigner. But FA president Armando Duko has already made up his mind: “It may surprise you but a foreigner is going to lead the Albanian team once more. A wrong choice [Haan] does not mean that we have failed. However, the new coach must fulfil certain conditions.

“He must stay with our team for at least three years. And we would hold him responsible for the selection of the teams. Lastly, unlike his predecessors, he must spend most of his time in Albania.”

These last words were clearly a reference to Otto Baric, whom Haan succeeded and who, in retrospect, did very well with admittedly limited resources.