Manchester City starlet Sinan Bytyqi has spoken of why he was forced to retire from the best job in the world, getting paid to play football, to now doing the second best job of being paid to watch it.
As a Kosovan Albanian baby in arms, Bytyqi fled a war-torn Kosovo with his parents and his brother, eventually ending up Austria.
From a young age Bytyqi showed talent with the ball and by the age of 14 had moved from picturesque Klagenfurt to the big city of Vienna.
‘All I ever wanted to do was play football,’ he recalls. ‘It was tough, being three hours from home, but if you want something you have to sacrifice things.’
Whilst playing for Austria’s Under 19s, the teenager was scouted by City who made their move. From here he progressed to being named as an unused substitute in City’s 7-0 League Cup thrashing of Sheffield Wednesday back in 2014.
A loan spell to Cambuur in Holland followed, but with that came a knee injury resulting in an eight month absence from the pitch. After he had recovered from this injury he had the fantastic experience of playing for Go Ahead Eagles, another Dutch team.
It was during this period whilst back in Manchester, Pep Guardiola came over and asked the youngster how he was getting on and to let him know they were watching him.
Back at training, Bytyqi was called into the office of the Dutch club and then came the bomb shell.
“I went in and there was the manager, the coaches, the physios,” he recalls.
“I thought “what’s going on here?”. It was weird. The manager pulled out a piece of paper and told me that they had found something on my annual heart monitoring test in Manchester and I had to go back to England.
“He also said it is the kind of condition that stops you from playing professional sport.
“They said if I continued playing I would have a four percent chance of my heart stopping and that if I stopped, that would be one per cent.
“I’ve known since I was a child that there was something a little different,’ but something like this only shows itself when you are fully grown.’
Bytyqi had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease in which a portion of the heart muscle is enlarged, creating functional impairment of the heart. It is also the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.
But City stood by Bytyqi and told him they would not be cutting his contract and would stand by whatever decision he made regarding his future in football.
Bytyqi contacted Fergal Harkin, City’s scouting manager, and that led to him being assigned a new role off the pitch, as a loan scout.
“He [Harkin] looked after me while I was on loan. He said he was going to build a team and I was welcome to work with him. I wanted to do that because I know how difficult a loan can be.
“I watch players, provide reports and try to support them.
“I have to thank City for giving me a chance. For me the best job in the world is getting paid to play football and the second best is getting paid to watch it.”