Two Greek league trophies, one Greek Cup, the Under-17 World Cup and a Puskas Award – aka, FIFA’s Goal of the Year – nomination. Pajtim Kasami’s career has taken him all over Europe and the Switzerland international is still only 26 years old.
Now, heading into the peak of his career, the versatile midfielder has opened up about the challenges he has had to overcome so far and why battling relegation last season provided one of the toughest obstacles in his career.
Kasami joined Swiss side Sion last summer after leaving Olympiakos and avoided relegation in his first season, having spent a total of 10 weeks at the bottom of the table. However, winning the last three games was enough to guarantee survival for a team who had been considered title contenders.
“It was a very tough year,” Kasami told Goal .
“I’m very proud the way I managed to turn it around in the end because it was something that made me feel very bad towards the people who gave me the trust, the fans. It was one of the toughest months in my career.
“I stayed [for] months at home, I didn’t go to see my family. I stayed very calm and tried to always stay positive because there were so many negative things around that it was impossible. But at the end of the day I like to stay home because it’s the place where you can wind down and relax.”
Kasami grew up in Andelfingen, just outside Zurich. By the time he signed for Serie A side Palermo when he was 18, he had already won the U17 World Cup with Switzerland, played for Grasshoppers Zurich and had loan spells with Liverpool and Lazio.
The opportunity to join Palermo was aided by the fact Kasami had signed with super agent Mino Raiola, a representative whose clientele includes the likes of Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Marco Verratti. Interest from the teams such as AC Milan and Roma saw Kasami reject the Italian giants to join Premier League side Fulham, where the midfielder admits he played some of the best football of his career.
“I called him [Raiola] and asked him to meet. He brings you the facts but he’s also very hard on you because he wants you to perform, to score goals and do well as this is how the market works. It’s also how he could bring me to another level. After one year at Palermo I had two or three different options, I had Rome and Milan in Italy and in England it was Fulham who really wanted me.
“I think my third year in Fulham was my best year. I was playing almost every game. Unfortunately [Mohamed] Al Fayed sold the club to Shahid Khan. It was a big change for the players as we didn’t know what would happen to us. Martin Jol got sacked and we felt that there was panic, then Rene Meleunsteen came in and Felix Magath came in after. Things became more stressful and most of the players left, it made my decision to leave easier.”
While leaving Craven Cottage was a difficult decision, the prospect of Champions League football with Greek champions Olympiakos was an opportunity not to be missed.
“It was a big team and it was easier when I saw they signed players like Ibrahim [Afellay] and [Eric] Abidal from Barcelona. I knew I would go to a club that would win titles and I was happy with the decision that I made.”
During his time in Greece, Kasami won two Super League titles and the Greek Cup, but in October 2015 he was involved in an incident following a Greek Cup quarter-final against AEK Athens. He was punished by the courts for provoking the Athens supporters.
The following August, Kasami was loaned to Nottingham Forest amid fears for his safety in the country.
“It was the anger after the game, losing the game. It caused a big impact in Greece afterwards but I don’t regret it because I love Olympiakos, the fans and the president. I defended my team-mates and the club.
“Two or three times I was followed by cars at strange times. After the club looked after me and gave me one of their security people who worked around my house. The hate between the two clubs is huge, you can’t imagine.”
The next chapter for Kasami is unknown but the emotional attachment he has to his previous clubs makes him a unique character in an industry that has traditionally been overshadowed by mercenaries. His self belief and persistence going forward will be key to returning to the big time again – a goal that he admits will require patience and hard work.
“When things are going well everyone can be amazing. When things aren’t going well it shows the real person and player. To get out of the negative thoughts I try to do something, like visit my family. Even though when I visit my family when things aren’t going well you always end up talking about football. To be honest, I try to be with people who aren’t involved in football.
“I always get the nice comments from the Fulham fans and obviously the Olympiakos fans are dying for me to go back. They had a chant for me [that translated as] ‘Kasami, don’t ever leave the port’.
“Every move is not because I like to move. I’d love to stay in a place and be satisfied and grow something important. Obviously you have goals whether it’s England or Italy or Spain, it depends. I’m convinced if I’m patient enough and work hard then I will achieve the goals I want to achieve.”