La Masia: Labinot Kabashi


When it comes to football, injuries can sometimes be a bigger threat to a career than any other factor. Labinot Kabashi is currently rehabbing from an ACL injury that has kept him out for the better part of 2018, but he is expected to return sometime in late October or early November. The Juvenil A squad boasts fantastic midfield talents in Jandro Orellana and Nicolás González, and Kabashi is seen as a player with a similarly high ceiling if he can properly recover from his latest setback.

Off the pitch, however, Kabashi's story is much more complicated than his Spanish teammates. Born February 28, 2000 in Vantaa, Finland, his family moved when he was young to Serbia in what is now Kosovo. Kabashi's family fled Serbia when Labinot was six years old during a time when those in the country with Albanian roots were the victims of ethnic cleansing. Landing in Sallent, Spain, about an hour northwest of the Camp Nou, the young midfielder moved from small club Gimnástic de Manresa to La Masia in 2010 after being recruited by long-time Barcelona youth coach Albert Benaiges. His father had been hesitant about the move due to Labinot's age, but Àlex Gómez appeared to be the perfect coach to get the youngster settled in with the Alevín C squad. In 2014 he was sidelined for two months due to Barcelona's transfer ban, but he was able to prove that his family's Spanish residency was about relocation and not football.

He progressed through the ranks as an ambidextrous attacking midfielder, culminating in his UEFA Youth League debut last season. He collected the tournament's top prize alongside his teammates after playing two minutes in a group stage win over Sporting CP and 23 minutes in the round of 16 against PSG.

He has not run from his Kosovan past; quite the contrary. He received a call-up and made the bench for the full national team for World Cup qualifiers in October of 2016, watching his team fall 6-0 to Croatia and 3-0 to Ukraine without stepping on the field. While he is not officially cap-tied to Kosovo due to his not getting into the game, the current understanding is that he is still eligible to play for Spain or Finland. It appears that at the moment his international future will be with Kosovo.

Any issues with Kabashi's future seem to be linked more to his injuries than his talent. When healthy, his technical quality is almost unmatched at La Masia. However, two cruciate ligament injuries, one in each knee, coupled with a torn meniscus in his left knee have the left the player sidelined for quite some time during essential years of his development. For all that Kabashi has already overcome, it would be no surprise to see him rebound once more.