In the next instalment of our feature where we speak to Chelsea players out on loan, we catch up with Armando Broja, the top-scoring teenager in Europe who is preparing for the Dutch KNVB Cup final against Ajax this evening…
Broja has made 25 appearances for the Dutch side this season and scored 10 goals amid a productive first season out on loan. He has also made his debut for the Albania national side and boasts a very special scoring record on the continent...
Vitesse are in action in the KNVB Cup final later this evening and, ahead of that clash, we grabbed some time with the teenager to discuss his season so far and look ahead to the biggest game of his career to date...
Armando, thanks for speaking to us in a big week for you and Vitesse. First of all, how have you found your first season in senior football?
‘It’s been going really well so far. Obviously it’s different going from playing Academy football to professional football and it’s a major step up so you have to mature really fast and grow up. I’m trying to develop and mature as much as possible, to become a better footballer and a better person.
‘I still want to do more and hopefully this weekend we can win some silverware to make the season that much better.’
We’ll come on to that cup clash shortly because it’s been a pretty good season for Vitesse, pushing for a top-four Eredivisie finish for the first time since 2012/13. Do you feel you’ve benefited from playing in a confident and successful team?
‘The new coach has brought in new players and new members of staff so things have really changed at the club. There’s a different philosophy and we really want to play attacking football, which is great for me as a striker because we like to press high and win the ball back quickly.
‘We’re fourth right now and still battling for second place [Champions League qualification] because we’re only five points off it. We’re not too far away and hopefully we can continue our good form into the last few games in the league.’
Unlike a lot of strikers who go out on loan at a young age and end up playing out wide, you’ve been fortunate to have started predominantly up front for Vitesse. How important has that been for your development this season?
‘Striker is my favourite position and my best position. I’ve been a striker for a lot of years so I know how to play it and how to score goals. It’s just thanks to the coach at Vitesse [Thomas Letsch] allowing me the opportunity to play up front and to showcase my abilities, to try to help the team as much as possible.
‘We play a different formation to what we did at Chelsea with a two-striker system so it’s a bit different. I’m used to playing on my own up front but now I’ve got to really work with the other striker. We’re quite close so we work well together on the pitch and these are all things you have to learn as a young player, playing different positions and roles.’
You opened your account after about 20 minutes of match action, on your second substitute appearance against Sparta Rotterdam…
‘That was very important for me and my journey so far because as a striker it’s good to be confident and scoring goals. Every striker needs confidence and it can be very stressful when you’re not scoring. I came a bit late to pre-season, I wasn’t really used to the players and didn’t know anyone that well so I started the season on the bench.
‘It was difficult for me to get into the team straightaway but thankfully I came on in my second game and got a goal, which boosted my confidence massively. Three games later, I got my first start and scored another two goals so it was a really good start for me, not just at the club but for my journey in professional football.’
A first loan is as much about improving as a player as making headlines so where do you feel you have improved the most this season?
‘I’d say physically and getting my body in shape because the games come really fast. It was a crazy period from December to January when we were playing three games a week and that takes a lot out on the body. It was good for me to be able to play that many games and to be able to stay fit.
‘Mentally, it’s been a challenge being away from home and living on my own. That can affect a player and his performances but Holland is not too far from England so I was lucky that my parents could come over, even if it’s only been a few times due to the pandemic. It’s still been good to see them and I like to be mentally strong so that helped.
‘There’s also been little things on the pitch like my line-up play, which has improved quite a lot. I’ve obviously got to link better with my strike partner and the number 10. There isn’t as much time on the ball so you have to play faster football, one-two’s and give-and-go’s. They expect a lot more from you so it’s good.’
Your nine Eredivisie goals is the most of any teenager in European football’s major leagues this season, which is pretty impressive for a player on loan for the first time…
‘To have that record is a really good achievement for me so far because I live for scoring goals and it’s great for my confidence. I’ve been happy with how my performances have been going and how I’ve been playing so it’s been good but I still want to do more. As a team, we want to finish the season off strong and fulfil the goals we set at the start of the year.’
You went out on loan at the age of 18, which is fairly young, so how important was it that Vitesse was your destination?
‘I had a few chats with Andy Myers [Chelsea Under-23s head coach] and he explained to me how he had such a good time there [as assistant coach in 2016/17], how everyone was lovely and the facilities were really good. I also spoke to Mason [Mount] because he was at Vitesse as well so he knew a lot more than I did about it.
‘He had a difficult start to his loan but then hit the ground running and won the best player award so he gave me a lot of advice and helped me come to a decision. I know a lot of top strikers have started in the Eredivisie and to have the example of Mason as well, to see where he is now, it’s good for me to think I can hopefully achieve those things as well.’
You’ve also made your senior international debut this season for Albania…
‘It’s been crazy because I was allowed the chance to play at such a young age for my international team. It’s a massive honour and something amazing to play for your country. To play against some of the best players in the world and in Europe is something surreal because I’m still quite young.
‘When we played against England recently, it was a chance for me to play against Harry Kane, one of the best strikers in the world, and some of the best players in the world. It’s just a massive achievement for me to be on the same pitch as them.’
Finally, looking ahead to the weekend, it’s Vitesse against Ajax in the KNVB Cup final. Vitesse have only won one major trophy in their history, which indicates how big a day this is for everybody at the club…
‘It’s really important for the city, the people and the club. They really want European football next season and we’re trying to achieve that goal so if we can win the trophy and get it then that would be perfect.
‘It’s going to be an amazing experience to play against one of the best teams in Europe. Ajax have a big history so it will be a very tough game. For players like myself, who have never experienced a game like this before, it will be amazing and hopefully we can win some silverware at the end of the day.’
Vitesse take on Ajax in the KNVB Cup final this evening from 5pm UK time.