Nevil Dede, having spent the majority of his career with hometown club Tirana, is regarded among the best centre-backs in Albanian football’s modern history.
A member of Albania’s national team for over 12 years, Dede, now coach of Dinamo Tirana, faced some the game’s greatest ever strikers, including Ruud van Nistelrooy and Michael Owen.
As a player he made over 300 appearances with Tirana, while also playing 76 matches for KF Elbasani. Viewed inside Albanian football as a genuine legend, Dede sat down with Tribalfootball.com to discuss his playing and coaching career, along with his hopes for the country’s football.
“Before the 90s, I had been 10 years in the old system of where athletes were chosen from schools,” Dede first recalls. “I had been very agile as a kid, and I was chosen as a runner, and I became a champion as a sprinter.
“The next year I entered football, my beginning was on the fields of the so called ‘Polikumi’. While I thought of myself as a striker the coaches there decided, based on my agility, that I’d be a defender. And from that moment my career was as a defender. In that time we had a lot of respect for the teachers, coaches and their words were like a law for us.
“It was not my choice, but the choice of my coach, I think that it was the right choice based on my career.”
Across Albania, he is a role model for young footballers, particularly young defenders. But for Dede, he didn’t have an idol growing up: “To be sincere with you, due to the education we had at Football Club (FK) Tirana we didn’t have an idol. Our education and idol was sacrifice and respect on the field. One of the greatest characteristics that was part of the success of Football Club Tirana was the growth of young players. And one of those young players was me.”
It was that grounding which eventually saw Dede reach the senior national team, where at centre-back he faced some of that era’s greatest strikers. Against Holland, Dede would do battle with Van Nistelrooy and Robin van Persie. Against England, it was the Liverpool pair of Owen and Robbie Fowler.
He recalls: “To be sincere Van Nilsterooy was so difficult to mark in the (defensive) zone, the goal that he scored against me in the 91st minute in Tirana was very hard to swallow.
“Another striker who has left a great impression was Robbie Fowler, he was always a step ahead of me.”
Over his time with the national team, Dede worked with arguably Albania’s two greatest national team coaches – the Croatian, Otto Baric, and West Germany’s European Championship winner, Hans-Peter Briegel. However, it was another Croatian that Dede says has influenced his coaching the most.
“From Briegel I learned the hardworking part and persistence, from Baric I learned a lot about football.
“Also I learned a lot from another coach Josip Kuze, he was a great philosopher on football and very smart regarding how to read and understand football. He had a great phrase regarding football: ‘If you want to look at a coach, look at how he attacks not how he defends’. I had a great relationship with him and we would speak regularly.”
The Dinamo Tirana coach has also worked with the Albanian FA, specifically as coach of both the U19 female and male Albanian teams. And Dede admits the senior national team post is something he covets: “Everybody would like and would be very honored to train the first team, but those who decide this are someone else.”
Indeed, Dede admits he now has his hands full rebuilding Dinamo after several recent years of struggles. The 47 year-old taking charge this past summer.
“Dinamo, it’s one of the biggest names in Albanian football, it has a great history. The trophies are like a brand for Albanian football. There’s been many years where Dinamo has not been at the level this club deserves.
“Last year the club tried to do something but failed, and we hope this year to send Dinamo back to where it belongs. The project, it’ s very serious and big, but we should take it step by step.”
One of the keys for success this season is Dinamo’s exciting young goalkeeper Simon Simoni. The 18 year-old has been involved with Edy Reja’s senior national team this year and is being tracked by clubs from across Europe.
Dede, thanks to his work within the Albanian youth system, has long known Simoni. And there’s a confidence of the teen remaining – for the short-term at least.
“To be honest I’ve known Simoni since he was 15 years old.
“I am one of the people who has believed in him a lot and I know his history since he was a little child. Now he is performing well, has good qualities, has a great personality, he is very calm during matches. We hope we can develop him further.”
With the confidence of Reja, there are high hopes at Dinamo that Simoni can add to what is already developing as an exciting, young Albanian national team. For Dede, given the talent available, the anticipation around this squad is justified. Indeed, he says nothing would make him happier than to see the current generation prove themselves the greatest Albania has so far seen.
“In general we become nostalgic, and think that the national team in our period had been better, but I disagree with this.
“With the evolution of our football players, the national team now is better than in our period. And I hope that this team does better than all the previous Albanian national teams.”