Return of the Kosovo kid

Newcastle Jets striker Labinot Haliti credits his overseas experience for the huge impact he's having in his second stint in the Hyundai A-League.

Newcastle Jets striker Labinot Haliti credits his overseas experience for the huge impact he's having in his second stint in the Hyundai A-League.

The path to footballing success has been a long and arduous one for the 24-year-old Haliti. Born in Kosovo, Haliti came to Australia as a 14-year-old when his family escaped the conflict in the Baltic States in the late 1990s and it was his love of football that saw him earn new friends in his adopted country.

Highly skilled as an attacking midfielder, Haliti's prodigious talent saw him signed for former NSL powerhouse Sydney Olympic as a 16-year-old. A successful switch to Sydney United a year later saw him net 22 goals over two seasons which was enough to earn him a contract with Newcastle at the inception of the Hyundai A-League in 2005.

Haliti enjoyed a good early stint for the Jets in their debut season under coach Richard Money, netting four goals including a memorable long-range strike against the New Zealand Knights that was a contender for goal of the year.

However, his fortunes turned downward as his first-team appearances evaporated under Newcastle's next coach Nick Theodorakopoulos.

Former Croatia and Albania national team manager Otto Baric saw some footage of Haliti playing in the Hyundai A-League and contacted the youngster to see if he was interested in pursuing a career in Europe. Haliti jumped at the opportunity.

"A big-name coach, Otto Baric, he's the one that saw me playing in the A-League and he wanted to help me out and get my playing football in Croatia. I must say he was the main one that got me overseas and he helped me a lot," Haliti said.

"It was always my goal to go overseas and play football and it came that I had the chance to play in Croatia and then Albania for a short time and then Poland for a good couple of years."

"I have had a decent run and enjoyed it and more importantly I leant a lot of thing about football on and off the park. It has been a good experience."

Haliti said the professionalism of the game in Europe was the biggest difference he noticed when he plied his trade abroad.

Initially signed to Croatian first-division team NK Slaven Belupo, Haliti quickly moved to Albanian team KS Teuta Durres where he scored three goals in a good introductory season. It was enough to earn a contract with Lodzki KS in the Polish first division where he established himself as a regular starter in the run-on side.

"When you play against and alongside players who are playing in the highest leagues in Europe, the Bundesliga, the Polish Premier League you learn a lot from them and obviously it brings out the best in you," Haliti said.

"You also learn how to treat yourself how to behave how to prepare, which has been very important for me in my career."

When licensing restructuring in Poland football forced Lodzki KS into relegation, Haliti knew it was time to move on and it was a call from Newcastle Jets coach Branko Culina, who mentored Haliti at Sydney United, that brought him back to the Hyundai A-League earlier this year.

"All the credit goes to him (Culina) because he was the one who gave me a chance to come back to the A-League," recalled Haliti.

"I was in Poland and I was in the last year of my contract but the team got relegated but I didn't want to play in the lower division, so I was looking for a way to get back."

"Branko called, I think it was the right move at the right time. And I'd like to think I am re-paying him."

An equalising goal in his first match back for the Jets against Melbourne Victory saw him make an immediate impact in his return to the Hyundai A-League. Three more goals and a burgeoning strike partnership with former English international Michael Bridges has seen Haliti become a regular starter for the Jets this season.

"The last couple of weeks have been really fun," Haliti said. "My hard work has started to pay off. I would like if the club was further up the table but we are working on it."

"It is great playing with Michael Bridges - he is my partner in crime. He is just one of those special players. I can learn a lot from him and I am already starting to learn from him. He has played at the highest level. What more can you say about him - he is a great lad on and off the field."

Initially signed on an 'injury replacement' contract for Marko Jesic, Haliti's new maturity on the park, coupled with his good form, saw him earn a two-year contract with the Jets and the Kosovo kid is keen to show the Hyundai A-League what he has to offer.

"I am very happy to be back in Newcastle and I think that shows on the field," he said. "It is home and it is great to be back."