Altin Lala: The Energetic Midfielder from Albania
Many consider Altin Lala one of the most consistent footballers to ever play for Albania. Lala possessed all the qualities that make up an excellent defensive midfielder, despite having a short height of only 1.72 meters (5’8). Such traits included abundant energy, remarkable pace, intelligent positioning, confident tackling, decisive interceptions, and even morale-boosting charisma.
Altin Lala was born in Tiranë, in 1975, to a family from the northern town of Puka. Until 15 he played for Dinamo Tirana. Then, in 1991, Lala moved to Germany after securing political asylum. At Gulda, where his refugee camp was, he joined the local side of SC Borussia Fulda.
After two tough years on the youth team, Lala joined the seniors at Fulda. During 1993-1996, he registered 34 confirmed appearances with Fulda in the Oberliga Hesse (the fifth football tier in Germany). Then, in two seasons (1996-1998), he played for Borussia Fulda in the Regionalliga Süd (third football tier). In Regionalliga Süd, Lala registered 55 matches, six goals, and one assist.
In the summer of 1998, Altin Lala signed for the big German club Hannover 96, then in Bundesliga 2. This move would mark his entire career. Lala remained with Hannover for the next fourteen seasons, each year improving himself.
On 30 July 1998, the Albanian midfielder debuted for Hannover in the 2-1 win against Karlsruher SC. Soon after, on 23 August of that same year, Lala scored his first goal for his new side (in the 1-2 loss against FC Gütersloh 2000).
A Legend Of Hannover 96
In four seasons at Bundesliga 2, Altin Lala registered 115 matches, nine goals, and four assists. During 2001-2022, the Albanian helped Hannover 96 reach a historic milestone. The side from Hannover finished that season as champions of Bundesliga 2, securing a long-sought promotion to Bundesliga 1. It marked the beginning of a golden era for the Hannover side that continued for 14 years straight.
As for Lala, he played for ten consecutive seasons (2002-2012) in the Bundesliga with Hannover. On 11 August 2002, Lala debuted in the top-flight German division against Hamburger SV. Each season since, experts acknowledged his hard work, courage, and consistency. His aggressive interventions aided possession in the midfield area and boosted team morale against tough opponents. On 31 January 2007, Lala scored his first and only goal in the Bundesliga, in Hannover 96 5-0 Hertha BSC.
During a decade in Hannover, Lala registered 181 appearances, one goal, and eight assists in the Bundesliga; 20 appearances and 1 goal in the DFB Pokal; and four appearances in the UEFA Europa League.
Farewell To Playing Football
On 5 May 2012, Altin Lala played his last match for Hannover 96. It was a stunning and memorable farewell match, with 49,000 attendees. The fans in two stands revealed a choreographed sign saying: 1998-2012 Danke Altin. That farewell display remains one of the most cheered for a Bundesliga player.
After departing Hannover, Lala had a brief experience with the second squad of Bayern Munich. With Bayern Munich II, he played only three games in the Regionalliga Bayern, his last games as a professional footballer.
National Team Stats & Highlights
In January 1998, Altin Lala made his debut for the Albanian National Team in a friendly away match against Turkey. After Lala entered the field as a substitute, Albania crushed Turkey 1-4 on their turf, İzmir Atatürk Stadium. This win is still one of the best results ever for Albania. Another personal highlight came on 29 March 2003 when Lala scored the second goal in the memorable 3-1 home victory over Russia (valid for the 2004 EURO qualifiers).
Lala registered 79 caps for Albania and three goals (against Russia, Switzerland, and San Marino). Of those caps, he played 22 times as a captain. He played his last game for Albania as a captain, in the 1-1 draw against Romania (11 October 2011).
After he retired from playing football, Lala became a football coach. On 3 March 2014, Lala became an assistant coach in the Albanian national team, led by Gianni De Biasi. He replaced Angelo Pereni in this position. This experience was brief. On 12 August 2014, the former midfielder left the seniors to manage the boys on the under-19 Albanian team.
* Altin Lala features in our all-time top 11 Albanian football players *