In a Sky Sports News exclusive, Ilir Meta explains how his passion for the Hoops began, and how watching the team on TV helps ease the "stress" of being president
Saturday 17 October 2020 18:13, UK
The President of Albania and Celtic - it's the love affair that has baffled many football supporters in Scotland.
Ilir Meta, who has been serving President of the Balkan country since 2017, has spent the last year tweeting pictures and videos of himself in a Celtic shirt and constantly posting his reactions to each game.
His Twitter timeline makes for extremely bizarre reading for a world leader. In the same day, he can be pictured attending important presidential meetings and then later seen jogging on the beaches of Albania in his Celtic shirt, shouting: "10 in a row" and "Hail Hail".
It's left many in this part of the world asking why and how this has come about.
Sky Sports News was given an exclusive interview with President Meta where he explained the reasons for his love for the Scottish champions, which goes as far as signing off emails and text messages to other world leaders with the Celtic slogan "Hail Hail".
Sitting in his Presidential Palace in Tirana wearing the famous green and white Hoops, he revealed he first liked Celtic in 1979, but being in Bosnia before their Champions League qualifier last season sealed the deal.
He said: "For the very first time, I saw Celtic on the TV when they came to play Partizani Tirana in 1979. These international matches were very rare during the communist time in Albania. I remember the great footballers like (Kenny) Dalglish and others.
"Later, the captain of our national team Rudi Vata was playing for Celtic and I was a good friend with him - and still am - and he would talk about how proud he was to have played for Celtic.
"But what connected me so strong with Celtic was in Sarajevo a year ago. I was on an official visit in the main centre of the city and I saw a group of people, very enthusiastic, drinking beer, making noise - it was not very clear what was happening. And then I saw the great combination of colours and realised that Celtic were here.
"I was going to the fans and greeting them and it was a fantastic atmosphere. I got a great reaction from them and we were talking of our respect for Rudi Vata. And it made me focus so much on Celtic and now it's the only team I follow."
President Meta, 51, set up a Celtic Supporters' Club in Tirana with former player Vata, in the summer.
He has been trying to rub off his passion on fellow government officials in Albania and across the world by using a Celtic slogan to sign off messages.
He said: "'Hail Hail' now is very common here in Albania and many people greet me this way. It is a great pleasure for me that many of the other leaders say it back - it's very inspiring and enthusiastic. In these times, we need this energy and optimism.
"My job as president is not so easy. You are under stress and under pressure to do many things. So when I follow Celtic, it helps me to recover and get more positive energy and to forget the headaches and be inspired.
"Celtic gives me great pleasure and motivation and I like to show that.
"I would love to go to a game. I haven't had the time yet but soon I will come and join with all the Celtic supporters, not in VIP."
President Meta has high hopes that Celtic can achieve an historic 10 titles in a row this year - and believes they could get a helping hand from summer signing Albian Ajeti, who is of Albanian heritage.
He said: "Now we have another Albanian, who is Ajeti - he is going to be a goal machine. And in the future we hope to see Rocco Vata (son of Rudi, who is in the Celtic youth team), play for the first team.
"I hope all the Celtic team show their best character as this season is the most important, because this year we want to have 10-in-a-row. That's why my Celtic shirt has the number 10. I'm optimistic we will achieve it."
Watch Celtic vs Rangers live on Sky Sports Football and Main Event from 11.30am; Kick-off 12.30pm. Follow the action with our dedicated live match blog including in-game clips, with free match highlights published on the Sky Sports website, app and YouTube channel later that evening.