Without knowing his name, Florent Hoti’s Mancunian twang gives the impression his journey to Dundee United is no more interesting than a trip up the M6.
In truth, the 20-year-old’s border-hopping runs far deeper than that.
Hoti, signed from Rochdale last summer on a two-year deal, is of Kosovo-Albanian background with both his parents hailing from former Yugoslavia.
The midfielder, signed with a view to the future, made his long-awaited Tangerines debut at Hamilton on Saturday.
Coming on for the final 20 minutes with the game poised at 1-0 – a scoreline which remained the case when time was called – showed the trust boss Micky Mellon has in his prodigious talent.
Hoti, who describes himself as a technical midfielder with flair, has had to be patient to get his chance in the Terrors’ top team.
A loan spell at League One Forfar Athletic, United’s Scottish Cup last-16 opponents on Friday, earlier in the season gave him a taste of Scottish football.
And, after rejecting terms to remain at Spotland to continue his development at Tannadice, he’s eager to sample more.
Flo expresses pride at making his Tangerines bow as boss Mellon hails ‘lad of great promise’
“It’s a proud moment for me because it’s been a long time coming but all that hard work, on and off the pitch, put me in good stead for coming on at the weekend,” Hoti said speaking after the Hamilton game.
“As soon as the gaffer shouted my name to come on I thought: ‘He’s trusting me here with 20 minutes to go and it looked like they were on top just before I came on’.
“It shows he trusts me and I was happy with that.”
The youngster is right in thinking his manager has faith in his ability, with Mellon labelling Hoti “a really talented boy”.
“His debut was important because we’re not just a club that goes: ‘Oh look at us we play young ones’,” the United gaffer said.
“I’ve always said if they deserve to play and we think they can make an impact for us then we’ll put them in.
“Flo has been champing at the bit and knocking at the door for quite some time and I was looking for the first opportunity that I could get.
“To be fair to him, when the young ones are doing that and deserve their opportunity, I’ve got to put trust in them to put them in.
“He came on and showed what a lad of great promise he is. He’s a really talented boy.
“We want to keep pushing him on and, hopefully, he’ll keep improving and be a really big player for Dundee United.”
Rejecting Rochdale a leap of faith Hoti hopes pays off
It would’ve been easy for Hoti to remain in his comfort zone at Rochdale, a place he called home for over a decade.
However, for the ambitious midfielder, a move to the City of Discovery felt like the right path for him as he looks to progress his career.
“I made my debut at 17 and played a couple of games,” he explained.
“I was offered my pro contract but that was when I started to look at coming up here.
“I was quite young when I was down there but this is the next step with my first professional contract coming from youth football.
“I thought it’s a challenge but one I want to make. I want to take that step and that was the thoughts behind it.
“I wouldn’t say I wasn’t getting the chances, Rochdale wanted me to stay there and play.
“I was there from the age of nine and I knew all the staff and everything and, to be fair, I was going in the right direction but I just felt at that stage of my career I needed a new challenge.
“It’s a first league in the Scottish Premiership – it was the right step for me.”
Loons loan stint opened eyes to Scottish game
From England’s League One to Scotland’s is a sizeable drop on many levels, it must be said, but one Hoti knew would be beneficial for his United hopes in the long run.
Heading north to Angus to link up with Forfar for the first half of the season, where he would play nine games under then-boss Stuart Malcolm, taught him a lot about our game.
Hoti believes the experience has given him the tools to show the United support what he’s really about.
“It taught me a different side of the game that maybe I didn’t know before,” he added.
“I’m used to Scottish football more and picked up things to add to my game.
“It was a good experience.”
Hoti continued: “I’d say I’m technical, show a bit of flair and like to try to get on the ball and create stuff.
“I want to make things happen but I’m not scared to do the other side of the game as well like putting my foot in and competing.
“When I get on it I try to do my thing and express myself.”
No identity crisis for young star as he weighs up Albania, Kosovo and England
Born in Manchester to Kosovo-Albanian parents, Hoti has many paths to choose from when it comes to his international career.
Albania are the first to have made their move, calling the Terrors fledgling into their U/21 squad for a recent training camp.
Hoti was unable to make the trip due to coronavirus restrictions as he continues to weigh up his options.
“Whatever is the best path for me, I’ll take it,” he said.
“Albania’s U/21s have some great young players and the pathway into the first-team is there – you see quite a few young players and they’re not scared to play them.
“I want to be playing at as high a level as possible, at the top of football.
“I want to be playing in the top leagues, full international, playing for the A team of either Albania or Kosovo that’s where I want to be.”
“My parents make me eligible for both teams,” Hoti continued as he explained his heritage.
“Kosovo gained independence in 2008 so that’s why I can play for both.
“Both Albanians and Kosovans, we’re the same people with the same culture and language.
“They’re different countries now but we’re the same people.
“It’s quite hard to understand, even my team-mates kind of don’t get it.
“When I put on my Instagram story, for example, that I’m supporting both sides they’re kind of like: ‘Pick one!’
“But they’re both my country.”
Adapting to living on his own half the battle for Hoti as he hopes to make his mark
For any young person, moving away from home for the first time is life-changing and Hoti is no different.
He says the pandemic has allowed him to focus on football and admits the draw of playing in big stadiums and against top teams lured him to United.
Hoti commented: “The coronavirus has helped in a way because I’ve been able to focus on football but I’ve not been able to go out properly in Dundee and do the stuff people talk about.
“In terms of moving out by yourself, you need to have your life skills and start cooking for yourself and doing your own thing.
“That’s the big change!
“With football it’s pretty similar.
“The top two teams, Rangers and Celtic, are obviously huge clubs.
“Hibs and Aberdeen, there’s a few good stadiums, Tannadice itself of course.
“It’s the Premiership and somewhere I can go out and showcase my ability – that’s what I’ve wanted to do since I came here but, unfortunately, I’ve not really had the chance.
“Hopefully between now and the end of the season I can get as many games in as possible.”
If he achieves that, Hoti will hope Arabs start to recognise him for more than his name and accent.