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Before Kumbulla: Naim Krieziu, the Albanian title winner in Rome

With the signing of Marash Kumbulla, we look back at the first – and previously only - Albanian player to have played for Roma…

When Marash Kumbulla was born, in February 2000, Naim Krieziu was a distinguished man of 82 years. A former striker, a former coach… and a former champion of Italy too.

Krieziu (often written as 'Kryeziu') was the first Albanian to play for Roma, a distinction that he carried for more than 50 years – until Kumbulla’s signing on Thursday, at least.

Krieziu was born in Gjakova, in what is now Kosovo, on New Years Day in 1918 – just a few months before the First World War came to a close. He moved to Rome as a student, one dreaming of becoming a PE teacher, having gained Italian citizenship following Italy’s annexation of Albania in the inter-war period.

It was actually a PE teacher, a friend of Roma sporting director Vincenzo Biancone, who first suggested the club take a look at the 22-year-old Krieziu, who already showed a speed that would earn him a nickname ‘Freccia di Tirana’ (‘The Train from Tirana').

But he had good skill on the ball too, ensuring he would quickly impress at a trial at Campo Testaccio, and would subsequently complete his signing at the club’s head office at Via del Tritone.

Roma, champions of Italy 1941-42: Naim Krieziu is standing on the far left of the back row

Including the wartime seasons, Krieziu represented the club for a total of eight campaigns – during which he scored 33 goals in 135 appearances. His assists for Amedeo Amadei were one of the key elements of the 1941-42 season, where Roma would eventually win the title.

But he contributed in other ways too: in January against Inter he scored a brace, ensuring the Giallorossi beat the Nerazzurri for the first time in seven years to put them on the path to glory.

In 1947 he was sold to Napoli for 18 million lire, although it wasn’t an easy deal for anyone – Krieziu crying when he was told the news, so attached had he become to both the city and the club, a club that was growing increasingly strong.

After retiring from the game he tried his had at coaching, although he enjoyed less success in the fold. He returned to Roma as an assistant coach in 1962, taking on the top job for just one game after Alfredo Foni was sacked by the club.

The end of his coaching stint with the club was, however, acknowledged upon it’s termination by a nice letter from board.

“The appreciation for the work you have done cannot be separated from the recognition of all the hard work you did with Mister [Alfredo] Foni last season,” the letter said.

“In the task you were given, you have shown you coaching ability and your absolute commitment to both your work and our club – a club which, among other things, will always remember you as one of our most important players.”

Krieziu continued to coach, enjoying some success in the lower leagues with Almas Roma – the club that would, in time, uncover another great Roma player, Giuseppe Giannini.

After finally ending his working relationship with football, Krieziu would go on to open a dry cleaners – continuing to live in Rome and support Roma as a fan.

He passed away, in Rome, on 20 March 2010. The Train from Tirana, who found a home in the Italian capital.

 
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