The streets of Korce, sixth largest city in Albania, will be gripped by sheer festivity when hometown club Skenderbeu lifts its eighth league title tomorrow.
It’s hard to believe a Gambian is the architect behind the smiles when the 80,000 residents of Korce launch their title parade after the final league game against relegation-threatened Vllaznia Shokder.
‘I’m very, very happy winning my first league title in Europe and I’m proud being voted my team’s Most Valuable Player with my goals numbering up,’ Sowe tells Foroyaa Sport from Albania.
The scenario bore a different picture eight months back. Ali was an injury prone player trying to find his feet following less than impressive loan stints at Prato and Vibonese – all third division Italian clubs.
Skenderbeu surrendered their title to eventual winners Kukesi that season.
Then the two paths crossed, Sowe joining the Albanians last August in a reported €350,000 deal – marking the birth of a player-club bonding whose by-product is an end to a 12-month trophy wait and participation in the Europa League.
Prior to this, Ali’s biggest season-goal feat had been a mere return of six at Vibonese, a stay yielding 18 straight appearances in the starting lineup.
The 23-year-old’s cameo for the Albanian giants came in the play-offs booking them a place in the Europa League group stage proper.
Taking on the likes of Arsenal or AC Milan was the striker’s preference but Dynamo Kyiv, Young Boys and Croatia’s Dynamo Kiev as group stage opponents wasn’t a bad taste either.
Goals against Young Boys and Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv cemented the Gambian’s confidence, a goal run he took into the Albanian domestic premier league.
The outcome reflects a catalogue of success: the first man from Gambia to score 21 goals in a season in the Southeastern European country and the highest goal-getter from amongst the West African nation’s vast scale of stars playing abroad.
The erstwhile Gamtel striker’s exploits see him on the brink of securing the league top scorer’s prize –an individual honour that will sure cap off a campaign well spent in the City of the Serenades.
He continued: ‘I’m in the race for the golden boot. I really love the fact that I’m competing for something so important and I’m doing my best not to stop scoring in any of the upcoming games till the end. I believe my hard work will surely give me what I deserve Insha Allah. I need to win it because personally, it’s a satisfaction and pride which I believe will help me go for more in the future…’
Ali’s stay at Korce will cease after tomorrow’s final game day. His performances haven’t gone unnoticed. So will the centre-forward fancy returning to parent club Chievo Verona and prove his worth in Italy’s top tier, extend his loan with SK or accept deal proposals made to him by foreign clubs?
‘I’m happy in the current form I’m in now and I think I’m just going to concentrate on working hard which is my motto. I’m just going to push harder to keep improving more. I have many offers (from other teams)but I don’t really think right now is the time for me to start thinking of next season.’
Summing up how his season at faraway Albania has been, he responded: ‘Awesome I can say! I like the people and the people love me, that’s what matters the most…..’
Skenderbeu’s otherwise stupendous run is on the verge of being clouded by allegation of a match-fixing scandal.
Europe’s football governing body, UEFA, have directed fingers of accusation on The Snow Wolves –Skenderbeu’s football moniker –alleging they’ve been involved a circle of fixing games to gain advantage.
This is the second time the team’s reputation is being dragged to the mud on a similar charge. It comes on the heels of a 24-month ban they incurred for a similar offense two years ago.
The penalty could rise up to ten years from competing the Uefa Champions League or Europa this time if they’re found culpable of the crime. Investigation is ongoing painting a murky picture for the side’s players’ future.
‘The team was suspended for been suspected of game fixing two years ago, but is not a case that has already been closed. Therefore, the team is going for the Champions League qualifiers 2018/2019 season but I’m here on loan just for this season, so I can say it was a shocking news before, but now I think the players are more relaxed about all the drama and getting ready for the Champions League qualifiers.’