“Hey, if you need me there in five hours or whatever it is to play a game, I’m there in five hours. I’m ready to go.”

Klaidi Cela’s phone buzzed to life earlier this week and with the call came opportunity. And for months that’s all the big centre back both craved and coveted – another chance to prove himself at the Canadian Premier League level.

Cela was officially added by Valour FC on Thursday after a month with Vaughan Azzurri of League1 Ontario and fills an immediate need for the club along their back line what with the announcement that Matthew Chandler will be out for an extended time and Andrew Jean-Baptiste still working to get back on the pitch.

“It all transpired in 24 hours,” Cela told “I got a phone call Monday morning from my agent saying, ‘A spot has opened on Valour. Are you ready to go?’ I said, ‘Hey, if you need me there in five hours or whatever it is to play a game, I’m there in five hours. I’m ready to go.’ Coach Carm at Vaughan (Carmine Isacco) had me ready to go, especially after the Montreal game where I felt strong mentally and physically. I had a quick chat with Phil (Dos Santos, Valour GM and head coach) and within 24 hours I’m in Winnipeg.

“They told me to be ready to be thrown straight into the fire. The team needs a centre back to step in and fill that role ASAP and I told Phil I’m excited to get going with the guys. I’m getting familiar with everybody’s face and character, and I already feel very integrated with the team.”

Cela, 23, is a product of the Toronto FC Academy and has previous CPL experience with Forge FC in 2019-20, making 18 appearances while scoring once and adding an assist in 531 minutes.

There are more layers to his story than just the black and white of his football resumé.

The son of Albanian parents Sami and Symira – both of whom fled Albania in the late 1980s before the fall of Communism – Cela knows all about dealing with challenges and adversity.

“I am who I am because of my parents,” Cela said. “And their story resonates with me and what I’m going through. It’s about going through it and making it out of the dirt. Football doesn’t owe you anything and things can change quickly. An example, I spent the majority of 2020 getting ready for the bubble (The Island Games in PEI) and within two minutes I was done – I tore my ACL in the first game against Halifax when I had just been subbed in.

“One day you’re a young kid that’s ready to go with a great team like Forge, to then needing nine months to a year to recover and find myself again. It’s the best and the worst thing that’s happened to me. It really tested me mentally. I grind every single day because I know if I can come back from that ACL injury, I can come back from anything.

“There are stories across the world where one person gets their break at 16, another at age 25,” he added. “You just don’t know. And you’ll never know when you hang up your boots and quit. If you keep playing, you keep going, you’ll never know what’s going to happen. That’s the mindset I have every day I just keep moving forward with it.”

Dos Santos said the injury to Chandler fast-tracked the club’s desire to add more depth at centre back, and management was thrilled to be able to add a player of Cela’s calibre given the circumstances. They had watched him closely in his lone start with Vaughan – a 2-nil loss to CF Montreal in the Canadian Championship last week – and clearly liked what they saw.

“Given the circumstances, we wanted someone who could hit the ground running,” said Dos Santos as the club prepares for Sunday’s game in Calgary against Cavalry FC. “Klaidi is someone we looked at in the past two offseasons. Last year he was committed to TFC II but he’s a player who has played in and knows the league and accumulated minutes with Forge.

“He’s an intelligent centre back who reads things well and understands when and how to close the spaces on the field. He’s a competitor, someone who had to fight through adversity to still be involved in the game.

“It was important for us to add to the position with the injury to AJB going a little bit longer than expected and with the injury to Matt Chandler. We want to make sure we’re not overloading guys like Abdou Samake and Guillaume Pianelli, who have already been giving us a lot of minutes.”

Cela was positively beaming about his first day with Valour and how this opportunity represents validation to all the work he’s put in, not just in the grind to recover from the ACL injury, but in the mental battle of waiting for a shot.

“It just goes to show an opportunity can transpire within a matter of days and if you’re ready for it or not ready for it, it could make and break you career,” said Cela, who played with Dante Campbell with the TFC Academy and Anthony Novak with Forge.

“Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan with me trying to get back to the CPL previously. But I’m happy I’m here now. This is my focus. Everything happens for a reason and clearly the reason is for me to be with Valour.

“All of this just proves I had it within me and I just needed a chance to prove myself. This is a chance for me to help the team and, on a more personal note, to prove I belong in this league and reach higher levels. I believe in myself. Coach Phil believes in me and that’s all I need at this moment.”


-Valour is still without midfielder Marcello Polisi and defenders Eskander Mzoughi and Jordan Haynes. As for an update on midfielder Raphael Ohin, who was injured in the Canadian Championship loss to TSS Rovers, this from Dos Santos:

“No update yet on the timeline for Raph. We’re still assessing his situation and how to better accelerate his recovery process.”