The Hyundai A-League has been responsible for the rebirth of Besart Berisha’s football fortunes, but as the Victory star told www.a-league.com.au, a dream move to an English Premier League giant was on the cards, had fate not intervened.
To understand Berisha’s story, go back to late May 2007 and the Lancashire town of Burnley.
Berisha lined up for his nation Albania against England “B” in a friendly at Turf Moor, home ground of Burnley FC.
The A-League great was a virtual unknown at the time, and Steve Maclaren’s England side dominated the pre-match build up.
The Three Lions fielded a strong side: Spurs great Ledley King plus Michael Owen, Phil Neville and Alan Smith as well as rising stars Aaron Lennon, David Bentley and Stuart Downing.
England eased past the Albanians 3-1 but it was Berisha who stole the show.
The 21-year-old in the red shirt of his Albania was simply unstoppable – and the talk of the English press box after the game.
A blond Berisha powered through the English defence from deep and smashed a power strike against the bar as a warning sign before beating Scott Carson in the England goal after another driving run into the box.
The A-League goal machine looked every inch the power striker any EPL club would want.
King and the English defence could not contain him. And sure enough, Berisha’s agent’s phone ran hot after the match.
“I played against England, an unbelievable game. I was in the top [form] and good shape.
“Really I remember all the Premier League clubs look at me but Burnley signed me quick,” Berisha told www.a-league.com.au
“But I heard other clubs were interested too. My manager told me something about Manchester United and Liverpool were also interested.
“I remember, I was on top [at the time]. I was playing for Hamburg at the time and super strong.
“But I signed with Burnley on a three-year deal because the coach [Steve Cotterill] wanted me and I liked the stadium [Turf Moor].
“It was great for me and I liked the special supporters at Burnley. I loved it.”
Sadly, an untimely injury put his career on hold for a year.
After that, the momentum in his career had gone, a new manager came in and brought in new players.
“So I had to find my way again. And this is when the move to Australia came closer. I needed a new start and I ended up in Brisbane from Burnley.
“So it was like being on the top, then falling down.”
Who knows what might have happened if that knee injury (diagnosed as an ACL) didn’t hit at such a critical time.
“I always ask myself that question,” added Berisha. “I had an unbelievable game and everybody told me the English team couldn’t stop me.
“But what can you do? Sometimes you have to take these tough lessons to learn and grow. And I grew after this…”
The year out at Turf Moor was a learning curve.
Having former Manchester United and England striker star Andy Cole at Burnley FC offering advice was important to him – though Berisha concedes he may’ve been too young to understand the star striker’s pearls of wisdom.
“Andy told me something at training and I didn’t take it well. He explained to me I don’t need to speak to young players but I didn’t take it the right way… then I understood what he meant.
“Andy Cole was one of the greatest strikers in England and I learnt in the right moments where you need to be and when the team needs you to be there.
“I learned a lot, being injured I had a lot of time to speak to everyone.”
Not that’s Berisha’s complaining.
On Friday night the Victory man will return to the club that set him on his road to redemption in Australia after his career drifted in Europe.
Since arriving in 2011, signed by Ange Postecoglou to Brisbane, Berisha’s will to win and sheer quality helped propel Roar to a trophy glut.
And since joining Melbourne Victory, he’s continued his trophy winning ways.
And Berisha will catch up for a coffee after the game with an opposition star who’s had an equally inspiring upturn in fortunes in the Sunshine State, Roar’s Thomas Broich.
Berisha added: “This is my sixth year and I love being in Australia. It’s been so good to me and I want to give back to the Australian football world.
“I want to help. I want to give back. I’d like to see how this [league] can grow.
I’m lucky and grateful. Australia has been so good to me. It brought me back to shine,” the 31-year-old added.
Victory open the season away to his former club Brisbane Roar on Friday night at Suncorp Stadium.