In February, when De Gelderlander newspaper ran a story on the trialists at Vitesse Arnhem, the headliner was a Danish midfielder called Patrick Olsen. Only the very last lines mentioned Milot Rashica, an 18-year-old Albanian winger from KF Kosova Vushtrri.
Milot Rashica had been trialling at various clubs for many years before Vitesse actually moved to sign him. He swatted away rejection and walked on with resilience. An attribute that perhaps arises from Rashica’s roots, as a child born as the Yugoslav Wars shifted focus to his homeland. As the conflicts in Kosovo escalated into outright war, his family fled. Rashica was just two years old. After the family returned to Vushtrri, Rashica grew up a witness to the aftermath of war, its ravages of destruction and violence, and, alongside, his country’s struggle for independence.
The earliest YouTube videos of Rashica show him playing for the youth team in Vushtrri, in barren fields with no seats or floodlights around, and only the hills for company.
Another, a bit more recent, shows him turn out for FC Llamkos Kosova, now more in the public eye and the background peppered with buildings and hotels. Rashica made his debut for Kosova Vushtrri aged only 16, a precocious young wing wizard.
But naturally, the Kosovo Super League would only take him so far. A few trials at KAA Gent and a handful of German clubs resulted in zilch until he chanced upon Vitesse.
To say the soft-spoken teenager was unknown of in the Netherlands may be an understatement, and was perhaps taken to be a signing for the higher tiers of the youth side or the reserve side. Given a chance in the first team’s pre-season preparations in 2015 by then-Vitesse boss Peter Bosz, Rashica grabbed it and never looked back. A brace against Asteras Tripoli in a friendly was the culmination of an afternoon of turning and twisting past helpless defenders for Rashica, who models his game of speed and skill over Cristiano Ronaldo circa his Manchester United days.
Bosz, preacher and lover of all things attacking in football, was expectedly enamoured with the starlet, who is relentless in his desire to start attacks and be involved in every progression.
All the way ’til the end of November, Rashica started every league game and, along with Marvelous Nakamba, was emerging to be one of the Gelderlanders’ best players on a consistent basis. Having built a good understanding with the equally-young rightback Kevin Diks, Rashica would often receive the ball near the halfway line and turn and run down the right flank, before cutting in and shooting with his left, like an Arjen Robben from Eastern Europe. While his passing may still require some improvement, the young attacker has adapted well to meet the demands of a winger in an evermore intensive modern game. He shows hunger and desire, tracks back and exhibits real fight, when competing for the ball –despite his relatively small frame. Cue that size of fight in the dog idiom.
While Kashia marshalled the defence, Marvelous Nakamba provided a strong presence in midfield and Lewis Baker sprayed out possession, it was Milot Rashica who proved the spark that livened up Vitesse. His dribbles and movement in and out of space lent a greater sense of unpredictability to the attack and kept both his own teammates and opponents on their toes, in anticipation of what he was going to do next – a quality all key attackers tend to possess.
Indeed, in the three games that Rashica did not feature in for Vitesse in the league, they only managed to pick up two points, scoring only once in the process. While the influence of the new, more defensive coach Rob Maas needs to be factored in, this streak was also perhaps attributable to the absence of Rashica. After all, the next match, with Rashica in the side and providing two assists, Vitesse managed to beat Heerenveen 3-0.
After that man of the match showing, the 19-year-old declared to Dutch media, glowing but not over-confident: “This is my style. I want to make actions, give assists, pull (defenders) in (and) shoot. This is how I play and I always will do.”
When Rashica scores, his celebration takes the form of a flying eagle gesture with his hands – the eagle being the symbol of Albania – and, for many, Kosovo. Rashica’s pride for his nation(s) – he says ‘Albania and Kosovo are one’, united by their dreams and struggles – is the kind of passion oft expected from a seasoned, rugged old centre back (but death to typecasting!) and unaccompanied by youthful nonchalance. If anything, his youthful rigour provides Rashica a unique blend of maturity and fieriness.
“If I am called, I will give my heart and soul for the national team. It’s my dream to be there next summer”, said the proud youngster, a while back.
Having made his national debut in March, the Albanian national team coaches followed the games Rashica played in the lead-up to the summer, but ultimately passed him up in a low-key act of selection blasphemy. Having already been awarded a Medal of Honour for merely qualifying for the Euros, would Albania have been able to go a step further with this young, fiery, passionate attacker? It may be too late to know now, but to keep Milot Rashica in mind for the future may be a good thing.