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Could Soccer Wunderkind Adnan Januzaj Play For Kosovo?

Kosovar Albanian midfielder Adnan Januzaj has been turning heads with his performances for English league champion Manchester United this season.
As full debuts go, Adnan Januzaj's could hardly have been better.

Making his first start for English soccer powerhouse Manchester United against Sunderland on the weekend, the fresh-faced 18-year-old helped his team overcome a 1-0 deficit with two finely taken goals.

After such a dazzling performance, which exuded class and confidence that belied his tender years, it was hardly surprising that Europe's sports pages were quickly tipping him to win his first international cap in the near future.

However, although there seemed to be general agreement that Januzaj is capable of playing at such a level, no one is quite sure which country's team will end up being graced with his presence.

Although he was born in Brussels, Januzaj's complex background means he could be eligible to play for a number of countries.

Born to Kosovar Albanian parents, he could join several other young players with a similar heritage by accepting a call from Tirana to play for "The Eagles."

As his mother's family originally moved from Kosovo to Turkey in the 1950s before relocating to Belgium two decades later, there is also the possibility that he might receive an approach from Istanbul with a view to his turning out for "the Crescent Stars," as Turkey's team is called.

Januzaj could even represent England should he decide to remain long enough in the country to become naturalized.

Such is the young man's precocious talent that England coach Roy Hodgson seemed to seriously entertain the prospect when speaking about the player to the BBC's "Match of the Day" program.

"It has to be seriously debated before we start renationalizing players, but there's no doubt he's a real talent and we have our eyes on him," Hodgson said. "There's a lot still to be discussed."

The player himself seems to be biding his time before making any decision.

According to "The Guardian," Belgian Coach Marc Wilmots has let it be known that Junazaj already turned down the chance to accept a call-up from the country of his birth.

"Manchester United told me that Januzaj has not made a decision to play for a national team yet, not for any country," Wilmots said. "We gave a clear signal [that we want him to play for Belgium] and now it's up to him. I will respect his choice."

When he eventually makes up his mind about international soccer it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Januzaj could end up representing Kosovo, which is where his father was born.

Given that both his father and uncle reportedly played for Brussels's FC Kosova Schaerbeek, it is safe to assume that the player still has close ties to the fledgling Balkan country.

ALSO READ: FC Kosova Schaerbeek: A Small Brussels Soccer Club With Big Dreams

One major obstacle to such an outcome, however, is that Kosovo has not yet been recognized by soccer's governing body, FIFA.

Although FIFA granted Kosovo the right to play exhibition matches in 2011, it is still not eligible to compete in any official international soccer tournaments, including the World Cup.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has appeared sympathetic to the idea of an international Kosovar football team, but regulations still require the country to be formally recognized by soccer's European authority, UEFA, before this would be possible.

Ever since the 1990s, after UEFA's qualification criteria were tightened up when Spain objected to Gibraltar being given international status, aspiring football nations have had to be internationally recognized and/or recognized by the UN before they can be welcomed into the European soccer fold.

Given the fact that Security Council member and Serbian ally Russia is strongly opposed to such a move, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

As a result, a whole generation of talented Kosovar Albanian soccer stars have accepted invitations from other countries in order to play soccer at the highest level.

Napoli's Valon Behrami and Bayern Munich's Xherdan Shaqiri, for example, now turn out for Switzerland, while a host of other players, such as Lazio's Lorik Cano, have decided to represent Albania.

According to Balkan Insight, in the past 15 years, other top-level Kosovar Albanian players have also played for Finland, Norway, Croatia, Montenegro, and Sweden.

Sadly, there's not much the Kosovo Football Federation (FFK) can do about this until the country achieves full competitive status.

"We have contacts with all football players from Kosovo even with the young-age-groups players, but it would be ungrateful to ask from them to play for our national team now and to prevent them to play for other national teams," says FFK General Secretary Eroll Salihu.

If the situation does not change soon it is quite likely that Januzaj will follow the lead of many of his compatriots and throw his lot in with another country.

Of course, given that Kosovo is still not officially recognized by FIFA, he could technically be eligible to play for Serbia.

That, however, seems highly unlikely in view of the fact that Kosovar-Serbian relations have been quite strained in recent decades.

-- Coilin O'Connor with contributions from Rikard Jozwiak

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