Largely unfancied at the start of the season, KS Teuta have gone a long way to proving their doubters wrong by striding to the Albanian Super League summit after nine games.
Despite operating on a modest budget, Teuta have continually poured scorn on their underdog status, and this term is no different. "We have done it year after year and will continue to do so," said club president Edmond Hasanbelliu. "We don't need star players – we need leaders that can adapt to our system, strategy and playing philosophy."
"Everyone should learn from a club like Teuta. They survive on a small budget, they do it the old-fashioned way," added former Albania striker Sokol Kushta.
The formula for Teuta's success is relatively simple and hinges on a committed group of players united by camaraderie and self-belief. There is also a healthy blend of youth and experience, something that came to the fore in their 1-1 draw at champions KS Skënderbeu on 19 October.
Indeed, the visitors were on the way to an eye-catching victory when Daniel Xhafaj broke the deadlock on the cusp of half-time. Mario Morina salvaged a point for Skënderbeu, who occupy second spot by virtue of an inferior goal difference. "We came here and showed them you don't need big money to compete," said Xhafaj, the league's seven-goal leading marksman. "We showed huge amounts of heart and fight tonight."
If winning the title remains the 36-year-old striker's main priority, there is also the small matter of breaking Vioresin Sinani's all-time Albanian Super League goalscoring record. "I would love to make history," said Xhafaj, who needs to find the net a further 16 times to surpass Sinani's haul.
Saturday's 2-1 home success over KF Laçi consolidated Teuta's position atop the standings and extended their unbeaten start to nine matches, yet coach Gugash Magani sees room for improvement. "We still need a couple of players to strengthen the team in certain areas. Perhaps in January we can push some deals through that meet our requirements," he said. "Most of our players have played together for a while now and with Bledar Mançaku and Daniel Xhafaj up front, we pose a threat to any team."
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