Before he joined the Western Sydney Wanderers, club great Brendon Santalab would watch the A-League from his base in south-west China.
Santalab was banging in the goals with Chengdu Blades (and later Chonqqin Lifan) after signing for the Blades in 2009.
But the arrival of a hitherto unknown striker at Brisbane Roar inspired Santalab's dreams of returning home and launching his own successful career back in Oz.
‘ABSOLUTE ROLE MODEL’
“Maybe a lot of people will be angry at me for saying this, but it’s Besart Berisha,” Santalab told www.a-league.com.au at the launch of Wanderers’ new kit launch.
“I think he’s an absolute role model for kids, and the way he plays the game with passion and flair.
“And his desire to win, his will to win. That really inspired me when I was watching from China before I rejoined the A-League."
Berisha was signed by Ange Postecoglou in 2011 and almost immediately began scoring goals and inspiring his Roar teammates to success with his desire and passion to win.
Last season, Berisha racked up goal number 100 in the A-League after two Championships with Brisbane before he joined Melbourne Victory in 2014.
“And even playing against him, I think he’s been a great addition to Australian football.
“I admire what he’s achieved in the country," added 34-year-old Santalab, who signed with Wanderers in 2013 and has become one of the club's most lethal strikers.
However, the Wanderers striker is still waiting to speak to Berisha.
“Well, he’s not the type of guy who wants to chat too much,” he said with a laugh.
“I don’t think he knows I admire what he’s done but I’d like to have a chat with him, maybe when we don’t play against each other, and see how he became successful and his journey as a footballer.”
Victory host Wanderers in round 5 of the new season at Etihad.
SETTLED WANDERERS EYE TITLE, SAYS SANTA
Meanwhile, Santalab and the Wanderers have been on the Gold Coast this week, putting in the hard yards ahead of the new season and their next Westfield FFA Cup clash with Bentleigh Greens in the Round of 16.
"Pre-season isn’t meant to be easy. And it’s great that we have our whole squad together already. In previous pre-seasons, it’s probably been left to a little bit late.
“Credit to everybody, we’re together. We’re gelling, we’re moulding very quickly," said Santalab.
“And the two Spanish signings [Alvaro Cejudo and Oriol Riera] are great additions, great people and with their presence this season, we can really go for the title.”
As for the new kit, Santa rated it.
“I love it. It’s very strong. More black in it than last season.
So looking forward to round one [of the new season], that’s for sure.”
Wanderers kick off their season on Sunday October 8 at home to Perth Glory.