Kosovo’s Champions League dream emerged from war and tragedy

• Feronikeli set to be first club from region to play on Europe’s biggest stage
• Kosovan champions’ former captain was shot 20 times by Serbian police

Fidan Rexhepi adored his uncle. During the week, he would borrow Rexhep’s boots to play football outside the family home in Koretice, hoping they might in some way transmit the hypnotic dribbling ability and sweet left foot whose reputation had spread far into the valleys and villages of Drenica. At the weekend he would see how it was done as Rexhep – Rexha to everybody – wore the captain’s armband and No11 shirt of Feronikeli, motivating his team-mates in action and word. One afternoon, Fidan was present to see Rexha carried aloft by the crowd, his name ringing in his ears, after inspiring a 3-2 comeback win. Football was often a dangerous pursuit in 90s’ Kosovo and the celebrations were, as always, laced with a hint of defiance.

The memories flow freely as Fidan, now 28, drinks coffee at the family’s cafe along the main road into Drenas. A couple of minutes’ drive to the east is the pitch where he would stand in thrall to Rexha’s gifts. That is significant enough almost two decades later, but there is something else, too. Rexhep Rexhepi Stadium can call itself home to Kosovo’s first Champions League club after Feronikeli’s runaway title win was confirmed this month and also stands as a monument to the man in whose image the club was rebuilt.

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