With just four more rounds of this season's Swiss Super League to go, FC Thun are already looking forward to a well-earned summer break having long secured their top-flight survival for another year. The Bernese Oberland club are even in contention for a European place, thanks in part to the consistent performances of Muhamed Demiri.
Thun's promotion in 2010 was the catalyst for the most successful spell of Demiri's career so far. Not only did he make his Super League debut, he also fulfilled a lifelong goal by earning a place in the Macedonian national squad. FIFA.com spoke to the 26-year-old about his eventual top-level breakthrough and his international ambitions.
Better late than never
"The biggest difference between the top two leagues is the physicality," said Demiri. "The Super League is somewhat quicker and more robust, but there is still plenty of quality in the Challenge League. When I played my first year in the Super League, the main difference was the speed. Football-wise the gulf isn't that big."
While many players blossom in their early 20s, Demiri's development took a little longer. Born in Macedonia, he moved with his parents to Switzerland as a baby and began his football journey with FC Concordia Basel, known to locals as FC Basel's "little brother". Demiri did spend two seasons with the latter's junior teams but returned to Concordia to sign professional terms and spent another six years with the club before signing for FC Thun in 2009.
"One of the coaches at FCB told me it would take a little longer for me to make it as a pro. At the time, I didn't understand why, but now, with hindsight, I do. I made my first Super League appearance at the age of 25 and four or five months later I was called up to the national team. I couldn't help but think of that coach when it happened."
Demiri first represented his country on 22 December 2010 and has gone on to make ten appearances for his homeland since. "It's a very special feeling," said the midfielder. "Suddenly I'm playing for my country with players like Goran Pandev, Goran Popov and Nikolce Noveski, all of whom I know from television. I've got ten caps now, but it's still a fantastic feeling."
The man charged with steering Macedonia through qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil is former Wales boss John Toshack. The task is unlikely to be easy, though, with the southern European nation still looking for their first appearance at a major finals since becoming a FIFA member association in 1994. And while two draws against the Netherlands in the Germany 2006 preliminary competition remain their most notable results in four attempts at qualification between 1998 and 2010, Demiri is a firm believer in the current squad and the coach.
"Macedonian football is very progressive. Almost all the national team play abroad. We have some robust defenders playing in the Bundesliga and Russia. We need to use the time between now and the start of the World Cup qualifiers to find the right balance between robustness, technique and composure. In John Toshack we have the right coach to do so. We players can sense his experience – his class really shows through in training and that gives us a lot of confidence.”
Brazil in sight
With Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Scotland and Wales to contend with in European Zone qualifying Group A, Demiri and his colleagues have got their work cut out. “It’s definitely a difficult group,” said the two-footed midfielder. “You could call it a Balkan group, what with us, Croatia and Serbia all drawn together. They’re going to be special matches. It’s actually quite an evenly-matched section. We’ve got the quality to qualify and I think second place is definitely within our capabilities. I can hardly wait. Ivan Rakitic plays for Croatia, and Serbia have Zdravko Kuzmanovic. I’m really looking forward to facing them.”
Before he can get his teeth into qualifying for Brazil 2014, Demiri still has plenty of work ahead with FC Thun, with a place in next season's UEFA Europa League still a possibility. “I want to have a good season with Thun and play to my full potential. We’ll have to see what comes of it. Of course I’m dreaming of a place in the Europa League, but if you don’t perform every weekend, it’ll remain just a dream. We’ll take it as it comes and try to bring about things by playing as well as we can.”