Two years ago, 15-time Albanian champions Partizani Tirana were starting their first season in the third tier. Now they are back in the Super League and club general secretary Eduard Prodani told UEFA.com: "We are here to stay for a very long time."
Partizani began the 21st century in the first division, winning the title in 2000/01, but financial troubles led to relegation in 2008/09. Only in 2011/12 did they start to recover, topping the third tier before a second straight promotion last term, behind KS Lushnja.
"We are back where we belong and we are here to stay for a very long time," said Prodani, who left his position as Football Association of Albania (FShF) general secretary to help restore Partizani to the elite. "Even when times are tough, big clubs like Partizani hang onto their status and continue to fight for success."
Founded in 1946, Partizani have 15 league championships, a tally bettered only by capital rivals KF Tirana and KS Dinamo Tirana. They have had many memorable encounters with those teams, not least Dinamo, with whom Partizani share a record 15 Albanian Cup wins and whom they beat to promotion in 2012/13.
They have also made their mark on continental competition – Partizani were the first Albanian side to enter the European Champion Clubs' Cup, facing IFK Norrköping. As well as playing 1. FC Köln, Torino FC, Celtic FC, SL Benfica, Feyenoord and Fenerbahçe SK down the years, they were the sole team from their nation to triumph in the Balkans Cup, in 1970.
"Partizani are one of those clubs that have gained support by winning domestic titles and international games year after year," said Prodani. "The club have achieved greatness thanks to their history, the passion of their fans and the stars that have played for them."
Their most celebrated former player and coach Loro Boriçi is known as the 'Goal King' (Mbreti i Golit) while Refik Resmja and Panajot Pano – Albania's Golden Player for UEFA's Jubilee in 2004 – also contributed to making Partizani the country's best-supported club. "They were very popular," said FShF president Armand Duka of that trio. "They weren't just great players, they were great people."
Yet since completing their seventh league and cup double in 1992/93, Partizani have not added to their haul of domestic crowns – clinching Albanian Cups in 1997 and 2004 but being demoted on more than one occasion. However, the return of former player Hasan Lika for a third spell as coach helped change their fortunes, culminating in last season's promotion.
"I was here when this team won their last league trophy in 1993; I will help them win another," said Lika, who together with Prodani, club director Genc Tomorri, president Lulëzim Sallaku and co-owner Gazmend Demi, has put together a fine squad. Lika's lineup combines youth products such as Elvis Prenci, Amir Rrahmani, Almir Murati and Felix Udoh with the likes of Besnik Krasniqi, Labinot Ibrahimi, Behar Maliqi, Mentor Mazrekaj and Ertan Demiri.
When they kick off their campaign on Saturday at KS Kastrioti, Partizani will be hoping their Super League comeback is just the beginning. Sallaku said: "We are still a work in progress. We are sorted in all positions apart from up front. We need some help and we will bring in two or three good forwards. We are not building a team just to compete. Our objective is to win a trophy."
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