Bersant Celina: Meet the Manchester City prospect making strides at FC Twente
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 10/11/16 9:09am
Bersant Celina is one of three Manchester City youngsters on loan at FC Twente this season. The highly-rated winger talks to Sky Sports about impressing Pep Guardiola, growing up in the same youth team as Martin Odegaard and representing his beloved Kosovo…
Pep Guardiola's Manchester City revolution is well underway at the Etihad Stadium, but there is another intriguing story unfolding some 400 miles away. Bersant Celina, Enes Unal and Yaw Yeboah are not household names like the senior stars at their parent club, but in the Dutch city of Enschede, home of FC Twente, they are already making a big impression.
The attacking trio are regarded as some of the most exciting members of City's next generation, and in the last few months at Twente it has been easy to see why. They have scored 14 goals in 11 games between them since completing their loan moves in the summer, and a club who flirted with relegation last season now occupy one of the European spots.
Turkish striker Unal is Eredivisie top scorer with eight goals, but Celina, a skilful dribbler with a keen eye for goal, is arguably the more exciting prospect. He netted just 11 minutes into his debut against Heerenveen in September, and he has added three more goals and an assist since then.
"Everything is going perfectly," he says in an interview with Sky Sports. "It's good to have Enes and Yaw here because we know each other and it's easy to play with them because we already have an understanding. We help each other out all the time. It's a good thing.
"I'm settled here in the city and the football club is amazing. I've started off really well and hopefully that will continue. It's completely different to reserve-team football. This is a big league and there are a lot of fans watching the games. I'm really happy with the opportunity."
Celina was handed the No 10 shirt on his arrival at the club. He has already impressed on both flanks and in central midfield, and Twente haven't lost any of the seven games he has started. He's fast becoming their key man, and he's enjoying the responsibility. "I wanted to come here and be an important player," Celina says. "So far I think I have."
His technical style is proving a good fit for a league in which teams like to get the ball down and play. "We play a lot with the ball so it's good for me," he says. "I had different options but I felt Twente were the team that wanted me the most. It was the best option. I'm happy with my decision."
Celina joined City's academy as a 16-year-old in 2012, and while Unal and Yeboah are yet to play for the first-team, Celina made his breakthrough under Manuel Pellegrini last season. There was an assist for Sergio Aguero on his Premier League bow against Leicester, and there were also three appearances in the FA Cup.
Guardiola approved a new four-year contract for the youngster in May. It was a big show of faith, and City are monitoring his progress closely in Holland. "They are watching every game," says Celina. "Every one or two games they come to visit. They speak to us and see how everything is going. It's close contact with the club."
Celina is relishing his first taste of regular first-team action, but his faint Manchester accent is a reminder that he still sees his future in the city he calls home. The 20-year-old has already had taste of working with Guardiola, impressing as a substitute against Bayern Munich in pre-season, and he is excited by the prospect of playing under the Catalan again.
"Pre-season with Guardiola was an amazing experience for me," he says. "I learned a lot of stuff I didn't know before. I was really surprised by how much he spoke to the young players. He told me he knows I've got a lot of skills but I don't always need to show it. Sometimes it's better to play a simple pass, to use your ability in a better way."
Celina has taken those lessons with him this season, and it's not just Twente who stand to benefit. The youngster grew up in Norway and represented them at youth level, but he switched to Kosovo when they were granted FIFA's permission to play international friendlies in 2014.
"I was born in Kosovo but we managed to escape to Norway when I was two, just when the war was starting," he says. Kosovo gained independence from Serbia back in 2008, but it is only this year that their team gained full recognition from FIFA and UEFA. Celina has already won five caps, scoring once, and they are in the midst of their first World Cup qualifying campaign. He speaks passionately about representing his country.
"I'm really proud and of course my family are proud of me for making the decision to play for them," he says. "It's been really good so far. It's amazing with all the fans and how everyone is supporting us. We have talented players and a competitive squad. The passion is different to other teams because of what the country and what everyone's families have been through."
After his own family's move to Norway back in 1998, Celina's career began in the youth ranks of Strømsgodset. He remembers it as a "normal life" but it included playing in the same boys' teams as Martin Odegaard, the Norwegian prodigy who shot to global prominence when he completed his much-publicised transfer to Real Madrid at the age of 16 in 2015.
"I played with him for five or six years, we were very good friends," says Celina. "He was so good that he obviously went up to the first team at Strømsgodset, but we always played together when we were young. He was a ridiculous talent and he still is. The way he was thinking about football and how smart he was on the pitch was unbelievable."
Celina is still convinced that Odegaard will fulfil his potential and become one of the world's best players, but it has not been easy live up to such frenzied hype, and their contrasting predicaments suggest Celina has been fortunate to avoid the same kind of media attention.
"I'm at Twente and I'm focusing on doing everything for the club, but I think about my future as well," he says. "It's a big motivation to get back to City and make the first-team. I want to go back to Manchester next season and hopefully stay there."
Bersant Celina may not be a household name yet, but it feels like he's heading in the right direction.