Being a Scots-Albanian in the Ireland squad isn’t as unusual as some might think.
Rocco Vata has made a big impression on the Ireland u-17 squad but his story is mirrored in two of his team-mates as the national team reflects the 21st century migration into Ireland.
Justin Ferizaj shared the headlines with Vata, his Albanian-Irish talent is now part of the Inter Milan Academy as he looks to make the Serie A breakthrough.
At the age of 16 young Rocco doesn’t look like he is too far away from getting involved with the Celtic first team, unlike Karamoko Dembele and Owen Moffat he has the physicality to step up and mix it with far older opponents.
Playing on the right-wing in the Lowland League has accelerated his development, returning to u-17 football even at international level isn’t daunting with the young Celt in good company inside the Ireland international set up.
The Irish Examiner explains:
It’s not many Ireland underage internationals whose call-ups are hailed by the president of another nation. But then most Ireland underage internationals aren’t sons of former Celtic footballers and most presidents aren’t as Celtic mad as Albanian president Ilir Meta.
As Ireland U17s, already qualified for the elite phase in spring 2022, recovered from a disastrous start to seal top spot in Group 5 thanks to a sensational free-kick from Justin Ferizaj, it was once again notable that three of the standout stars of the team this past week have been of Albanian descent.
Rocco Vata, son of former Albania captain and Celtic defender Rudi, and Ferizaj (twice) have scored stunning solo goals – all three efforts worthy of any FAI Goal of the Year shortlist, even since the seniors have started scoring in bulk again – and Kevin Zefi has been brilliant on the left wing while bagging a goal and threatening more.
In a post-Brexit landscape where the squad is largely homegrown, the international dimension is added by the likes of Vata and Zefi, who have already signed their first professional contracts with Celtic and Inter Milan respectively, while Ferizaj was recently on trial with AS Roma.
The article adds:
Vata is eligible to play for Albania, Montenegro, and Scotland but Ireland moved first. The attacking midfielder held his right hand to his chest throughout Amhrán na bhFiann at Turner’s Cross on Wednesday.
“Nobody in the Albanian FA ever contacted me. I know Scotland have watched him but the Irish association was the first to get in contact,” his father Rudi told The Sun, adding he has been called a traitor in some social media abuse from his native country.
“They didn’t show any kind of respect, desire, or professionalism, and if they don’t do that, he will never touch a ball for Albania.
“I cannot dictate his decision. The most important thing is the boy is free to decide with his heart and mind. Anything can happen in the future but at the beginning, it is Ireland who have been in touch and shown interest and respect.”