'I fell in love with football again...' Besart Berisha on 10 years in Australia
The crazy thing is that Besart Berisha was only supposed to come here for seven months. Get fit, get some game time, and get back to Europe.
But then something magical happened in those seven months in 2011 – the striker, in his own words, “fell back in love with football” after years of injuries and stop-start seasons in Germany, the UK and Denmark.
So now he is returning to Europe as planned, but after almost exactly a decade that has made him the A-League’s record goalscorer, the second highest scorer in the history of Australian club football, and a four-time championship winner.
That’s why, he says, “If I look back at everything, I'm, so, so happy I made the decision to come to Australia. I'm so thankful for everything. It's been an unbelievable ride, unbelievable.
“I didn’t know I was going fall in love with this place! But that's what Australia gave to me. I loved again to play football.”
The 142 A-League goals, the passion, the will to win and the sense that drama was always imminent meant Berisha has been box-office for that whole decade in the colours of Brisbane Roar, Melbourne Victory and Western United. More than once he crossed the line and served a penalty, but his coaches loved the drive he brought to every training session and the standards he set.
Senior ex-teammates describe privately his refusal to accept anything less than total application on the training ground. “It was pretty annoying at times, when he got angry over a cross that wasn’t right, but looking back it’s why we won things,” said one. “He drove us to be the best.”
Berisha admits it’s all true, but insists he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I've always been really driven at training, because I knew those trainings will bring everything in the game (at the weekend),” he said. “Every drill I did from Monday to Friday had to be just perfect.
“I know if I look back today that for sure I was annoying to players and I would love in one way to apologise. But then in another way, I don't want to. This is where the success is. If you want perfection in training - you know, bring the right crosses, bring the right passes with purpose, with belief - then you are unbeatable. This is how is the success comes.
“When it works, it’s good. I know it's annoying for quite a lot of people in training and clubs. But you must try to be perfect in training. You cannot be always perfect in the game, but you can afford to try in training to be perfect, and that will reflect in your games. That's what I tried to do every time and coaches love it. The players? So so….”
Berisha is already midway through his coaching badges, determined to make that his next role in football and hopeful that his coaching career could include time in Australia. You get the sense he will understand the combustible characters in a squad who can ignite success – not least because his own coaches in Australia loved his dedication to the cause, beginning with Ange Postecoglou who signed him for Brisbane Roar.
Berisha laments that he only had one “really special” year with Postecoglou, but says the coach with whom he most clicked was Kevin Muscat at Melbourne Victory. Both were driven to succeed, both could cause collateral damage in pursuit of that success, and both understood each other’s mentality.
“What I had with Kevin was something unique,” he said. “I will always be thankful because with Kevin, I reached a different level of football, a different level of me as well.
“If I look back at everything, Kevin was the most (influential), I could do everything as a player and grow as a player. There's so much I learned, you know, the way he understood me, the way he just knew everything I need. That was really special.”
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