Lorik Cana: Albania’s Best Football Defender & Captain
Lorik Cana remains one of the most accomplished players to wear Albania’s national jersey. Coming from Prishtinë in Kosovo, Cana was one of the first Albanians from Kosova to star for the Albanian national team. He was a member of a family noted in sports. His father, Agim Cana, had been a notable football player.
Cana’s Early Career
At a young age, Cana moved to Switzerland. He made his debut in senior football with FC Dardania Lausanne. He played for three seasons for the Swiss-Albanian club before moving to France, to the youth squad of the French capital.
Cana made the breakthrough in professional football with the French giants of Paris Saint-Germain in 2002. With PSG Cana won the French Cup in 2003-2004 (the first Albanian to achieve this triumph in France). In about three years, he accumulated, for the capital side, 81 total matches scoring twice and assisting once.
Legend Of Olympique de Marseille
On 24 August 2005, Lorik Cana joined Olympique de Marseille for a fee of €4,000,000 paid to PSG. With the Olympians, the defender wanted more playing minutes. And he achieved that. In four seasons, he was an absolute protagonist with the Olympian team.
At Marseille, Cana became an effective leader, even among football stars such as Franck Ribéry, Mickaël Pagis, Djibril Cissé, and Samir Nasri. Only two and a half months after his transfer, Cana scored an iconic victorious header in “Le Classique”; this success registered on 16 October 2005 against his former club was Marseille’s first win against the bitter enemy since 12 April 2002!
In the 2006-2007 season, the Olympians reached two runner-up positions; in the Ligue 1 and the French Cup. The second position in the league secured participation in the next year’s Champions League after four years. On 12 May 2007, Marseille lost the Cup final to FC Sochaux-Montbéliard (2-2) 4-5 on penalties. Cana himself scored the third penalty in the final shootout.
Captain of Marseille
On the eve of the 2007-2008 season, Cana became Marseille’s captain replacing Habib Beye (who departed to Newcastle United). He led his team in two memorable UEFA Champions League campaigns. Marseille also reached UEFA Cup’s last-16 stage that edition and the quarter-final stage in the 2008-2009 season.
In four seasons with Marseille, Cana played 122 league games scoring six league goals and assisting eight times. Other stats include four appearances in Coupe de la Ligue, 15 Coupe de France games (scoring once and assisting once), and 34 games in European competitions (including 12 memorable games and a goal in the UEFA Champions League group stage and 17 matches in UEFA Cup / the current UEFA Europa League.
Lorik Cana With Sunderland & Galatasaray
On 19 May 2009, the Albanian defender played his last match for Marseille. At the Stade Vélodrome, before his fans, Cana fought till the end to win the Ligue 1. Yet, his side lost to Lyon 1-3, failing to secure the trophy by only three points. Marseille would eventually win this important trophy a year later but lacked Cana in its ranks.
The aggressive and intractable player moved to Sunderland A.F.C. on 14 July 2009 for € 4,500,000. No one doubted his leadership qualities. Steve Bruce awarded him the captain’s armband. Cana made his debut in the Premier League on 15 August 2009, contributing to a 1-0 win against Bolton Wanderers. Thus, he became the first player representing the Albanian national team to play in the toughest competition in Britain.
In a single season with Sunderland, Cana stepped up in 31 league matches, assisting once and maintaining a solid defense. He helped his team finish 13th in the league, comfortably avoiding relegation. Lorik Cana also played two games in the F.A. Cup and two others in EFL Cup.
A year later, Cana tried a different adventure in Turkey; with the giants of Galatasaray S.K. The transfer had a fee identical to what Sunderland had spent for the player a year prior. A mid-injury season in Turkey made the experience in Istanbul less memorable. He still prides himself on 24 matches and a goal in the Turkish Super League, 4 Turkish Cup appearances, and 3 UEFA Europa League qualifying games.
After concluding his only season in Turkey, SS Lazio bought the services of Cana for € 6,500,000.
Cana’s Cup Triumph With SS Lazio
Lorik Cana made his official debut with Lazio on 21 September 2011 at Cesena in the last minutes of his side’s 1-2 win. He soon became a titular player, offering stability in the center-back position and defensive midfield. On 10 December 2011, Cana scored his first goal with Lazio (in the 3-2 win against Lecce).
Cana’s career highlight with Lazio came in the 2012-2013 season. Along with his center-back partner Giuseppe Biava and Federico Marchetti between the posts, he was decisive in Lazio’s triumph in the Coppa Italia (Lazios’ sixth Cup). Even though Cana started that campaign with his own goal, he played in almost all Cup matches, including the final. Thus, on 26 May 2013, Lazio won against Roma 1-0 with a goal by Senad Lulić after 71 minutes. By achieving this triumph, Cana became the second Albanian to win this competition, 71 years after Riza Lushta’s success with Juventus.
In all four seasons, Cana played 111 games for Lazio, scoring four goals and assisting twice. As for the league, the most successful run happened in 2014-2015 when Lazio finished third in Serie A.
National Team Stats & Highlights
While at the club level, Cana preferred the defensive midfielder position, he occupied the center back for Albania. He made his debut for Albania at 19, on 11 June 2003, in the away 2-3 loss against Switzerland. He quickly became a solid leader of the red and black team, rightly deserving the role of captain for a record 39 matches.
In all, Lorik Cana starred in 92 games, also a record as the player with the most national appearances ever for Albania. The charismatic defender helped his nation register a historic qualification into the final stage of a major tournament; the 2016 UEFA European Championship. Of note is his iconic and decisive sliding intervention against Nicklas Bendtner, preventing a clear shot for goal in Denmark vs. Albania 0-0 (4 September 2015). Later, Albania finished that group stage with pride, in third place behind France and Switzerland and registering a stunning 0-1 victory against Romania (19 June 2016).
* Lorik Cana featured in our all-time top 11 Albanian football players *