Swansea City's Bersant Celina relishes reunion with Guardiola's Manchester City

By Gareth VincentBBC Sport Wales
Celina v Foden: Ex-City colleagues reunited in FA Cup.
FA Cup quarter-final: Swansea City v Manchester City
Venue: Liberty Stadium, Swansea Date: Saturday, 16 March Kick-off: 17:20 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru, plus live text commentary with in-play clips.

Born in Kosovo, raised in Norway as a result of war and shaped at Manchester City, Bersant Celina will be reunited with Pep Guardiola this weekend.

If Swansea City, the David to Guardiola's team of Goliaths, are to pull off what would be a spectacular FA Cup triumph, they will need Celina to produce a big performance against his former club.

It has not been an easy week for Celina, who has been in the spotlight after a freakish penalty miss at West Bromwich Albion.

But a Swansea success against Manchester City would wipe away memories of what happened at The Hawthorns for a player whose path to professional football began when his family fled their homeland as a result of the Kosovo War, fought between February 1998 and June 1999.

Celina was a toddler when, with conflict around the corner, he was whisked away to the Norwegian city of Drammen.

Without that move, the attacking midfielder suggests, he probably would not have become a footballer.

A couple of decades later, he is grateful for the opportunities he has had and is relishing the chance to face Manchester City, where he came through the ranks to make four senior appearances.

"Manchester City is where I became a man," Celina tells BBC Sport Wales.

"The club were a big influence on me. They had lots of really good young players and amazing coaches.

"The new academy was built while I was there and it was an amazing place to be.

"I was actually the first person to move into the academy and live there. I just wanted to be around that place so I could play football all the time."

Celina was just 13 when he became aware that Manchester City scouts were monitoring his progress with Norwegian club Stromsgodset. At 15, he made the move to Manchester.

"I hadn't even finished at school. Leaving my family and friends was a big step," Celina says.

"It was hard, but I had to sacrifice something. I think it is the best decision I ever made."

Leaving conflict behind in Kosovo

Bersant Celina celebrates with Leroy Fer
Bersant Celina has scored two FA Cup goals this season

If swapping Scandinavia for Eastlands was not easy, it was nothing compared to the upheaval the Celina family had faced as a result of war in Kosovo.

They were among more than a million Kosovans displaced by the fighting, which was part of a series of conflicts that eventually led to the break-up of Yugoslavia.

"I was born a couple of years before the war broke out," Celina says.

"We just managed to move away before it really started. I am happy obviously that I didn't have to be there, but I had family who were.

"I went to Norway with my mum and my two brothers and then my dad came later on.

"They were hard times, but we got through it. The country got through it and now the people in Kosovo are happy."

Choosing between Kosovo and Norway

Celina feels a "strong connection" to Norway, for whom he played international football at various youth levels right up to the under-21s.

Yet when Kosovo played their first sanctioned friendly game in 2014, Celina - who was then just 17 - was part of the squad.

For a while there was a debate over whether he would represent Norway or Kosovo, but Celina committed to the land of his birth when he made a first competitive appearance against Finland in 2016.

"I always knew I was from Kosovo, but I felt Norwegian as well because that's where I grew up," he explains.

"There was no Kosovo national team so my goal was to play for Norway.

Kosovo's Bersant Celina and Croatia's Domagoj Vida
Bersant Celina has 11 Kosovo caps

"Then Kosovo got a team and were recognised by Fifa and Uefa. That changed the way I was thinking. I chose Kosovo because I felt that was the right decision."

Heading back to Kosovo to play international football was a novel experience for Celina.

"I had only been back once before that," he adds.

"We couldn't get visas and we didn't have Norwegian passports - it was difficult. Financially it was difficult too.

"But it is always good to go back now. Most of my relatives are still there. I always go to where I was born. I love it there."

A source of great pride

The Kosovo team are still finding their feet in international football - last September's Nations League win over the Faroe Islands was their first competitive victory - but are a source of great pride for the nation.

"There's definitely a lot of passion in our country," Celina says.

"It means something for all the players and their families to play for the country.

Bersant Celina
Bersant Celina joined Swansea from Manchester City for an undisclosed fee last summer

"The people want us to do well. They support us. It means a lot because of what they have been through."

Celina's qualities mean he has the potential to become a key figure for Kosovo.

His ability to look after the ball, open up defences and chip in with goals saw him drafted into Manchester City's first-team squad as early as 2014, just months after he signed a first professional deal.

Developing in Manchester

Celina had caught the eye while playing for the club's development side under Patrick Vieira.

"He was a really good coach," Celina says. "Everyone liked him and it was great to play for him."

Celina's senior debut eventually came as a substitute in an FA Cup win at Norwich in January 2016, when Manuel Pellegrini was in charge.

He then featured in the cup at Aston Villa before setting up a goal for Sergio Aguero in his one Premier League appearance to date, against Leicester City.

Celina's solitary start for Manchester City was at the end of that campaign's cup run, in a heavy defeat at Chelsea.

Bersant Celina takes on Christian Fuchs
Bersant Celina's one Premier League appearance came against champions-in-waiting Leicester City in February 2016

He was rewarded with a new four-year deal that summer which was approved by incoming manager Guardiola.

"I will never forget the games I played for Manchester City," Celina says.

"The senior players were really good to me. They gave me important advice and a lot of confidence, and I was thankful to Manuel Pellegrini."

Celina's next step was a year-long loan with Dutch club FC Twente in 2016-17, before another loan stint last season, this time in the Championship with Ipswich Town.

The hope was that he would do enough to impress Guardiola, who had influenced Celina during their limited time together.

"There is so much you can learn from him. In the training sessions I had with him I learned a lot," Celina says.

"You can see why he has been successful. The way he is so demanding with the players and the way he wants to play football. It's amazing."

Leaving the Etihad

With so many star names standing between him and regular first-team football under Guardiola, Celina felt the time was right to end his six-year stint at Manchester City when Swansea came calling last summer.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola is hoping to win the FA Cup for the first time this season

"I did my best at City," he says. "I don't think it was a failure for me. I was just happy to be in that squad and to learn from the manager.

"They have some of the best players in the world with great experience. I am just a young guy trying to become like them and it's going to take time.

"It didn't work out, but it's not a bad thing for me. Being at Swansea now is great."

Manchester City were the club Swansea wanted to avoid in what will be only the fifth FA Cup quarter-final in their history.

Graham Potter's side will have to do something extraordinary on Saturday to secure a trip to Wembley, but Celina insists there is hope.

"They are maybe the best team in Europe at the moment," he concedes.

"We need Manchester City to have a really bad game while we have a really good one. It's going to be difficult, obviously, but it's possible."