Lorik Cana may be setting the world alight at Sunderland, but life has not always been easy for the Barclays Premier League's first Albanian footballer.
Steve Bruce's £5million signing from Marseille has made such an impression on his new boss, that he named him the new club captain last week and announced he is convinced his no-nonsense, whole-hearted approach to the game will win him cult status on Wearside.
Cana likes a tackle almost as much as Sunderland fans like a man who likes a tackle.
Adoration is nothing new to the golden boy and captain of theAlbania national side, who dated former Miss Kosovo Universe ZanaKrasniqi and whose image adorns enormous advertising billboards inTirana.
But as he comes to terms with his new surroundings in theNorth East, the one-time target of Real Madrid and Arsenal has spokenof the difficulties he has had to overcome throughout his life to reachthe promised land of the Premier League.
Cana and his family fledwar-torn Kosovo with father Agim, also a footballer of some repute whoplayed for Yugoslavia. They landed in Lausanne, Switzerland and in factCana could have represented the Swiss but chose instead to return hometo Albania once he had established himself at Paris Saint-Germain andMarseille.
The 26-year-old midfielder said: 'I was seven when I left Kosovowith my sister and parents. It was almost as if it was not true and theworst thing was that, for eight years there was no possibility to goback. We were refugees.
'When you are political refugees youcannot move and that is the most difficult thing. I stayed inSwitzerland eight or nine years without the possibility of seeing therest of my family and friends.
Pride of Tirana: Cana fools Denmark's Dennis Rommedahl (foreground) in a World Cup qualifier earlier this month
'It was not easy because, of course you never know whether you are going to stay but I learned French, went to a good school and played football in good conditions with good facilities, good trainers. It was not easy but I also had the possibility to have a good level of living.
Lucky Lorik: Old flame and former Miss Kosovo, Zana Krasniqi
'I always want to give back to my family, my people, my country. That's the most important thing for me. That's my aim, my target, my goal. I always want to be on top as a man and a footballer because it's important to give a good image of my country.
'Albania doesn't have many famous people so it is important that when you can, you must try and give a good image to other people.'
Cana could have arrived in England as a teenager, but even his proposed trial with Arsenal fell through when he was stopped at the Swiss border because he did not have the correct visas.
Instead, he moved from Lausanne to PSG before enjoying a colourful four years at Marseille where he warned the nickname 'Le Destructeur' and came to Bruce's attention.
The new Sunderland skipper will never forget his roots, however.
He added: 'Looking back at what I and my family have been through, it makes me proud that I am where I am today.
'A war is something terrible for people, for a country, for everything. Thank God I didn't lose many people from my family but my friends lost lots of people. They lost houses, they lost everything. It was a difficult time.
'Now the situation is a little better, the economic situation has improved but at that time it was very hard to play football.
'Everything that happened gives me my power and my energy to make sure I give my best wherever I go. I know everyone in my country, my family and friends are proud of me.
'I go back home to see my family as often as I can. It's difficult for them to get back to normal life. Since my first contract with the youth team at PSG, I regularly send them money. That is also why I do this job.'
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