Play Like Arnine

Ali Yaqub for The Players' Tribune

So, my dad says this thing to me all the time.

And if you knew my dad, you’d know he’s only half-joking. Maybe even only a quarter joking.

He says, “Armando, you’re not allowed to stop playing football until you get Albania to a World Cup!”

In case you don’t know, Albania have never qualified for the World Cup.

Honestly though, I actually love the pressure and I love having that as a goal — no matter how big or far away it seems right now. It’s always in my mind.

I want to tell you a little bit about where that mentality comes from and what representing Albania means to me. It all starts with my dad.

He’s always been so desperate to succeed and for his kids to succeed. Growing up, there wasn’t a minute to waste. Time was the most precious thing to him.

We joke now that my success is 50-50. Half mine, half his and my mum’s.

Armando Broja

“You only get 24 hours in a day and you spend almost half of that sleeping….”

I remember he’d see me sitting down to play FIFA or something and he’d be on me like, “Instead of spending an hour on the PlayStation, you could be spending that hour training….”

He just couldn’t get his head around anyone not wanting to use their time to the absolute maximum. Making every second count for something.

So, we trained a lot.

Ali Yaqub for The Players' Tribune

I remember when I was young and just starting off in football, he’d come home from work late and he’d be exhausted. It might be like 10 or 11 at night and he might’ve worked a 15-hour day, but he’d always ask, “Armando, have you done your training today?”

Obviously lyin’, I’d be like, “Mmm, yes?”

He’d know the truth, though, and out we’d go to the park and he’d make me run laps. Twenty times around the pitch.

Arrrrgh, Dad! Why??”

“No, no, no. I don’t hear you. Keep it up or it’s gonna be 30.”

When I had a growth spurt around 16, he got worried I was gonna lose my speed. Pace had always been one of my biggest strengths. So he took me out to do hill sprints for like an hour at a time. I was basically falling down the hill by the end and he’s there standing over me like, “Nah, go again. Another one. Defenders gonna catch you.”

It was like, This is your way out, your path to success.

Armando Broja

We joke now that my success is 50-50. Half mine, half his and my mum’s. They put in the work you don’t see. In those early years, though, the balance was waaaay more on their side.

You’ve also gotta understand where my dad came from. He and my mum left Albania in their early 20s for England, when my mum was pregnant with my older sister.

My parents had very little and there wasn’t much opportunity in their village. They were so determined to provide a better life for their kids. But it was hard for them in England, too. They didn’t have money and they didn’t speak a word of English. By the time I was born, we were all living in one room in the back of a hotel in Slough.

We struggled like that for a few years. My parents have told me the old stories, and I’ve seen photos of those times, but the only real memory I have is of this tiger teddy bear that I used as a pillow in that one room where the whole family slept.

My dad did whatever he could to provide for us in those years. He started out at the bottom, doing construction work, building houses, laying brick. He was such a hard worker, so determined. There were always people ready to give him a job.

Eventually, he teamed up with a friend and they got together enough money to start their own company putting in swimming pools. Recently, he’s even done a few pools for other footballers ha!

Now he’s older and his back hurts, but he’s his own boss. He just had that DNA where he could never stop until he was a success.

And for us as his kids, we didn’t have any other option. Whatever you wanted to do, you were gonna do it as best as you possibly could, with everything you had.

It was like, This is your way out, your path to success. You’ve got to fight for it with every available minute of the day.

Ali Yaqub for The Players' Tribune

For me that was football. Dad saw that in me early. I loved sport, but I was a bit wild as a kid, full of energy. I needed that structure. He trained me, taught me, made sure I was on the right path as I progressed through the academies at Tottenham and then at Chelsea. I think he had it in his head that his son was gonna be an Albanian icon. Like the Albanian R9 haha.

You see, growing up, I was all about Cristiano Ronaldo, like most kids of my generation. But my dad was obsessed with the other Ronaldo. The Brazilian.

All I used to hear about was R9. 

Except I was too young to have seen him play, and when Dad talked about R9, I didn’t know what he meant. To me it sounded like Arnine.

“Armando, I want you to be like Arnine! You have to play like Arnine! 

“Arnine, Arnine, Arnine.”

Who’s Arnine?

Then he showed me YouTube clips. My dad and I would sit there and watch video after video of Ronaldo doing his stuff for Real Madrid and Brazil, my dad filling me in with the details of his career and legend. I quickly fell in love with him too.

Another name I became familiar with growing up with was Lorik Cana — the only Albanian to have played in the Premier League before me.

Mike Hewitt/Getty

He won trophies with big clubs in France and Italy, and he also had one season in the Prem with Sunderland, in 2010/11. The guy’s name is legend in Albania, basically.

That’s the way it is there. If you represent on the big stage, your name goes down in history. You’re an icon.

I got a taste of that when I scored my first Premier League goal last season.

After a while that started to sink in, what it meant to make history.

Armando Broja

When the ball hit the net against Leeds, I was lost in the moment. I didn’t even know how to celebrate — it was only my first Premier League start! I knew my parents were going nuts in the stadium too, but it wasn’t until after the match when I was scrolling through social media that I kept seeing it: Armando Broja is the first Albanian to score in the Premier League.

Oh, wow.

After a while that started to sink in, what it meant to make history.

It made me think of another thing that my dad always used to say to us growing up: “Make sure people remember your name, long after you’ve gone.”

I feel like, with Albania, that is possible. And I love it.

There was a moment when the England under-21s wanted me and, yeah, I thought about it and what I wanted for my future, but honestly … I didn’t have to think too long.

I grew up in England, but I’m proud to be Albanian.

Wherever we were living as a family, it was always an Albanian house, y’know? Noisy. Full of lots of little arguments, but very close. I can hardly remember a night we didn’t sit down and eat dinner as a family.

My parents made sure that the culture was deeply ingrained in me. We traveled back there a lot when I was growing up, so that I’d learn the language and meet all my family  — I swear everyone we bumped into in Kamëz was my cousin. 

Honestly, not enough people know what a beautiful country Albania is, with amazing beaches, beautiful countryside and warm, friendly people. 

Every time I travel for international duty and pull on the red and black I feel this incredible pride and excitement.

Ryan Pierse/Getty

It’s the country of my parents and my culture, but I also love that in the Albanian team you can take on responsibility and expectations as a young player. You can step up and be a star. And if you do well, you can become an icon for eternity.

I’ve already experienced the Arena Kombëtare in Tirana singing out my name and there’s no better feeling. 

Honestly, the night we played Poland last year, I’d never experienced an atmosphere like it in the Premier League or anywhere else. Man, it was crazy.

I was warming up on the touchline and could hear the entire stadium chanting my name. That was unbelievable. My mum told me afterwards that she even broke down in tears haha! That night, I felt the love and respect of the country, and I owe it to every Albanian to give my best every time. To make every second count. 

I know I’ve got high targets.

I want to be Albania’s own Harry Kane, Ronaldo or R9.

I want to get my country to a World Cup.

And when my career is over, I want my name to live on. For Albania. For my dad.