The Albanian Football League, the Liga Profesioniste e Futbollit, recently joined the European Leagues. We talked to Dritan Kadia, General Secretary of the league about the reason to join and the goals as a member of this organisation as well as the issues of and recent developments in Albanian football.
Mr Kadia, the Albanian Football League recently joined the European Leagues. What effects does this membership have?
The Albanian Professional Football League was recently accepted in the European Leagues along with the Professional Football League of Bulgaria and Malta as Development Members. This membership occurred after submitting our application, and of course the full approval from other members.
The members aim for the development of football and the protection of the rights of domestic football, its clubs, players and fans. The European Leagues cooperates with other football associations, such as FIFPRO, the Global Union for Professional Football Players, European Club Association (ECA) etc.
I want to highlight that the acceptance in the European Leagues is an important milestone for Albanian football. We believe that we will get the best out of our membership in this important international network in a club level, benefiting from the unique experiences and opportunities that this partnership offers.
Can you tell us a bit about the league? How many people work for it? How is it structured?
The Albanian Professional Football League was founded in December 2018. There are currently 10 member clubs, who currently play in the “Abissnet Superiore” category. Its mission is to improve the level of professional football in Albania even further and bring in even more income for members to reinvest in football. Due to this being a continuous, dynamic development process, we currently cannot say that we have a traditional organisational structure, as we are very limited in terms of budget and human resources. In cooperation with such prestigious international organisations, we aim to soon create the right infrastructure with enough human resources for an administration that will help the league grow and support its membership with realistic projects and innovation in Albanian football.
Is the Liga Profesioniste e Futbollit only responsible for the first tier of Albanian club football? And how is the relation with the national association?
In fact, I would like to focus on this. There currently exists a process between members to increase memberships with clubs that are part of the first division (second tier). However, this is being processed and we are expecting results. The Albanian Professional Football League operates closely with the Albanian Football Federation, focusing on marketing and representation. For the league, this partnership is incredibly important, as we can always rely on the valuable experiences and resources of the federation in every step of the further development of the league.
What are the latest developments of the league?
Two years ago, the APFL was strongly engaged in being an advocate for sport in Albania. The aim of this movement was to change the sponsorisation law in Albania, in order to make it more attractive for businesses. In our opinion, this can secure more support for sport in general, especially football. The existing sponsorship law has not generated any revenue for sport in our country. The sacrifice of football to raise awareness in the government was painful, as clubs boycotted the championship for three consecutive months. As a result, we received a promise that things would change.
Another achievement was the sale for the first time of the name of the Superliga for a 3-year period. It is true that the amount does not affect the clubs that much, but it is a good start. In Albania, it is considered an achievement.
Another success I would like to mention is the participation in the process of the new contract for the official broadcaster of Abissnet Superiore, which ultimately brought in 40% more income for our football, starting this season.
What projects would you like to focus on now as member of the European Leagues?
It might sound strange, but bets in Albania have been banned for a few years. This means that a good source of income for sport has been outlawed. Our acceptance in the EL has opened new horizons for us. We will apply for different projects in the European Leagues and are prioritizing two of them.
We are looking at the possibility of selling TV broadcasting rights abroad, which the European Leagues have made possible with its existing members, where more than 10 leagues have achieved this within a period of last two years, something they had lacked the means to achieve earlier on. There is also a very good opportunity for the sale of the rights to set quick bets, by means of which the professional leagues have massively increased their value in the market, achieving everything that they could not have by negotiating with the betting associations themselves. These are the two projects that we were promised to soon apply for and profit from.
Can you tell us a bit about the Albanian clubs. How are they doing, how are they positioned?
If we are discussing Albanian clubs, I would not hesitate to express reality. They are not in good shape. Everyone is trying to give their best. The club presidents of Abissnet Superiore and more are a very important asset for the existence and functioning of clubs. Coaches, players and every other participant in football activities, including the federation, sacrifice a great amount of themselves and their families to keep alive a dream, a passion. With the myriad of problems this country has, it cannot be any other way. It simply mirrors the Albanian reality in general.
What are the biggest issues of the clubs currently?
In itself, this is a short question, but there might not be enough rows to discuss it. The main purpose of clubs is to achieve sporting success. Aside from the financial and sporting aspect, I would like to emphasize three main directions where our clubs have a lot to do.
In the legal aspect, we still have clubs that formally function as non-profit organisations, which hinders investments and their long-term stability.
In the administrative aspect, in Albania, the largest part of club budgets, making up 90-95%, goes towards the wages of players and technical staff. This needs to change. Administration teams are low in numbers and without proper qualifications. Having a successful club from the sporting point of view requires a good quality supporting administration. This is an aspect where Albanian clubs need much improvement.
In the aspect of infrastructure, many investments have been made as a result of the collaboration of the government and the Albanian Football Federation in building new stadiums. On the other hand, there is a lack of training fields for the first tier clubs and football academies too.The federation has taken on a project for the construction of 100 training fields in the whole country.
Technical club staff is making good use of technology, there being an obvious technical, tactical and physical improvement of teams through the use of video analysis. This has been achieved in collaboration with the federation. This was done in cooperation with the federation after the courses conducted by the latter. But the use of software for managing clubs, academies and players is still in its infancy.
May you tell us a bit about the economic situation of the clubs? How many people are working at the clubs, especially in the areas not directly related to sport? What budgets are we speaking of and what are the most important revenue streams?
The need to secure the future has made clubs think about football for the youth, in schools and academies, starting from young ages. Every club has its own model in terms of its structure and development in the sporting aspect. Some clubs have invested massively in the youth, building a healthy structure and receiving financial benefits from this vision. There are some football schools that operate with the need to develop their infrastructure. To raise a child into a football player, there need to not only be basic conditions, but also to build the necessary infrastructure for the child’s accommodation, schooling etc.
The minimal responsibilities of a football club, due to licensing, entail that there need to be more than 20 people in its membership, where about 30% need to not have an association with the sporting aspect.
As for your question about our clubs’ source of income, they are similar to those of other surrounding countries, with the feature that part of the income from sponsors is almost zero, and donations from presidents play an important role in supplementing the necessary income for the survival of clubs. What remains are the proceeds from participation in competitions for UEFA, revenue from TV broadcasting rights, tickets. Club budgets are quite low and it is thought that despite the informality, the annual turnover of the first tier is 8-10 million euros.
How do the attendance figures in Albanian football look like?
We do not have accurate records on the number of fans per match, as the source of this number comes from the delegate’s report. However, the number of fans in the stadium, on top of other things, has come to increase due to improved conditions in stadiums and the construction of new, modern stadiums. Today, the average number of fans per match is estimated to be around 2.500 spectators, this number being influenced by the number of spectators in the derby matches in Tirana, where the number reaches 15-20.000 spectators.
How do you support the clubs? Are there for example any educational offers like workshops; do you market any assets centralised; do you offer centralised tools/software, so that this is cheaper or free for the individual clubs?
One of the main aspects of collaboration is education, where along with the Albanian Football Federation, we have created a training programme for different roles within the club administration. This has allowed for the licensing of coaches, medics, physiotherapists, video-analysts, sports directors, as well as the UEFA CFM certification (Certificate in Football Management).
We have had offers from software companies to provide clubs with tools/software, but at the moment it seems that we are far from concluding such a project, although the League would be a good opportunity to make such a project a reality.
Where do you see potential to grow for the clubs and the league as a whole?
Clubs are investing in football academies, teams of different age groups and women’s football. The federation has unravelled a strategy for football for the period 2022-2025, which it has called “Football for the Nation”. This strategy has very ambitious objectives. For example, it is intended that the number of registered players will increase from 17,000 to 23,000 players, and to double the number of licensed trainers. What we are currently working on, which is part of this strategic document, is “Unravelling of the strategy to support clubs”. We have based this strategy on three main pillars: legal, administrative, and technical regulation. The league will support the development of this strategy to the best of its ability.
We try to inspire and educate people working in football, is that a topic for you as well? To further educate people working at the clubs or those working for them in the future?
Naturally this is a very good initiative, and we will keep supporting it in the future. The main obstacle that we are focusing on at the moment is the lack of trained employee and lack of engagement of existing ones with many duties, which we are trying to overcome precisely through education.
Where do you get inspiration from?
Football is the most widespread sport in Albania. Inspiration stems from the game itself. We want football to grow as much as possible, relying on academies to bring in new talent. We want our teams for boys and girls to perform as well as they can, while at the same time entertaining their supporters so that the football community can grow and thrive.
Are you exchanging a lot with other leagues, maybe also other clubs or even sports organisations? And is this also a reason why you joined the European Leagues?
Sport, especially football, creates many opportunities to network. Naturally, we and our members have a lot of contact with clubs and different sports organisations. Our joining in the European Leagues did not surprise us as we met old friends again, however we are now part of a network with common interests.
What is the next big project of the Liga Profesioniste e Futbollit?
Earlier we mentioned a number of problems with our clubs. What we have identified as the most important is to structure the clubs themselves with healthy management so that their business can grow sustainably. For this we have obtained agreement from all members and are building a detailed strategy by formulating a series of guidelines as models based on the experience of the Leagues and the operation of successful European clubs.