Final goal before retirement: Përparim Hetemaj bids farewell to football

In the closing moments of PAOK-HJK Helsinki match yesterday, Përparim Hetemaj hot home the penalty resulting in a 4-2 victory. Fittingly, this came in the Conference League group stages match San could be perceived as the final flourish of a long career that came to a close in Greece.

For 12 years, Hetemaj played in Italy, primarily for the beleaguered Chievo Verona. He once confessed to local newspaper L’Arena, “As a young man, I followed Italian football and I liked Lazio very much. But that call from Rome? I didn’t believe it, I didn’t know.” He did emphasise, however, how he was content at Chievo, a statement that remained true throughout his tenure.

Returning to Helsinki, Hetemaj played for HJK, the team where he started his career. He described it as coming full circle, returning to his second home. His childhood as a refugee from Kosovo was difficult, with a seriously ill father and no home of their own.

Football became a refuge, a space to dedicate all his energy. Last year, a statistic showed that since 2010, he was the third most fouled player in Europe, trailing only Eden Hazard and Juan Cuadrado. A clear picture of his determination and dedication on the pitch.

His first Italian club was Brescia, where he had a fleeting encounter with the temptation to return later in his career. After playing in Greece and having a brief stint in the Netherlands with Twente, Hetemaj arrived at Verona in 2011. He spent eight seasons there, making 249 appearances and even wearing the captain’s armband for a time.

Chievo was perfect for him, a place for him to express his characteristic exuberance, a place where he was at his best. After Chievo, Hetemaj concluded his tour of Italy in Benevento, playing a pivotal role in their promotion to Serie A.

His best performance came the following year, a stunning victory over Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus at Allianz Stadium. Subsequently, he went to Reggina with a final match against the Scots of Aberdeen where he was once again at the forefront, getting fouled in the extra time.

There was no more fitting an end to an illustrious career than to wrap it up in Greece, where it all began for Hetemaj. A true football journeyman, his footprints were left both at home in Helsinki and away in Italy, his adopted second home.

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