How two former tormentors helped Melbourne City land Valon Berisha

Friends with Erling Haaland and a former teammate of Sadio Mane, new Melbourne City arrival Valon Berisha certainly isn’t lacking in high-profile connections. But it’s two former Melbourne Victory legends that City might have to thank for landing him. 

First reported by French publication L’Équipe, City on Wednesday afternoon confirmed the arrival of Kosovan international Berisha on a one-year loan deal from Ligue 1 club Stade de Reims, subject to visa approval.

Also possessing stints at Red Bull Salzburg, Lazio, and Fortuna Düsseldorf before landing by the river Marne, Berisha becomes the third international arrival at the defending A-League Men premiers this offseason after Dutchman Richard van der Venne and Finnish international Thomas Lam. 

The trio joins the returning Nuno Reis and Florin Berenguer in completing City’s foreign contingent. 

Born in the Swedish city of Malmö to Kosovan migrants, Berisha grew up in the Norwegian town of Egersund and represented Norway at both a junior and senior international level, winning 20 caps for Løvene between 2012 and 2016. 

Kosovo’s admittance as a FIFA member, however, led to a switch in his allegiance and he has since made 36 appearances for the land of his heritage, most recently starting three games and appearing as a substitute in their Nations League fixtures in June. 

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It was with the Dardanët that City’s new arrival become acquainted with another Berisha in the form of ALM legend Besart – no relation – and he revealed that the former Melbourne Victory and Western United hitman had put in a good word for the Australian top flight when he discovered Berisha was set to sign with his former rivals.  

“I didn’t know too much [about ALM],” he explained. “But I’m friends with Besart Berisha, he was playing over here so I know him quite well. He was also with [the Kosovan] national team and I remember him always saying really good things, especially Melbourne because he played here for most of his career. 

“He enjoyed it a lot and was talking really big things about it. And even when I came here he reached out and told me good things and also, of course, said I needed something that he would help me out.”

Besart, however, isn’t the only ALM connection that Berisha had prior to his move to Melbourne. In fact, he wasn’t even the only connection that had played in the attack of both Victory and Brisbane Roar. 

It was Fahid Ben Khalfallah, who recently helped facilitate the transfer of Mohamed Toure and Yaya Dukuly to Reims, that can claim credit for informing Berisha of the possibility of a move Down Under. 

“Fahid, he also played here and he was there at the club because he just brought over two youngsters from Australia,” he explained. “We had a talk, he let me know everything and he said it could be a nice opportunity for you if it was something I would do. 

Berisha and City Director of Football Michael Petrillo
Image Credit: Melbourne City

“Thinking about it and talking with my family, I found it to be a nice project for myself. It’s going to be a new experience also, and in life, I like to challenge myself and go to other places. 

“I think this opportunity is good for me and also, to be honest, to come to Melbourne City, a club that has been champion, and I want to be a player that can help to keep building them and to win the league this year as well.”

A midfielder by trade, the well-credentialled Berish looms as a likely replacement for Socceroo Connor Metcalfe, who departed City in the offseason to join German second-tier side St Pauli. 

Though landing in Melbourne just a month out from the start of City’s campaign, coach Patrick Kisnorbo’s side is set to open the new season with a grand final rematch with Western United at AAMI Park on October 7, the 29-year-old has been in pre-season training with Reims since June, and doesn’t think it will take long to get up to speed. 

“I think as a midfielder, a number eight going box to box,” Berisha said when asked where he best fit for City. 

“I like that a lot, defending but also going forward and being creative with the ball. That’s the position that I’ve played the most. 

“I also played a lot on the left wing when I was younger but midfield is probably my best position.”

Beyond his obvious abilities on the pitch, however, Berisha also lands in the ALM with arguably its most impressive contact list; his new status as a City Football Group signing bringing him into line with his friend and new Manchester City talisman Haaland.

“He’s from a city in Norway not too far from the city I used to play,” he grinned when asked about the connection.

“I knew him and he went to Salzburg, where I also went when I was young from Norway – Salzburg was my first move and for him, it was the same. And around that time I was doing some rehab in Austria and he wanted me to stay with him so we’ve got a really good connection for that time. 

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“We’ve been friends since. He’s a great player, he’s showing that at Manchester City already, scoring goals – that’s what he does. But he’s a really good guy off the pitch.”

But while Berisha’s time in Austria never crossed over with Haaland, he was hardly devoid of high-profile teammates. 

“Maybe the one I learned the most from and the way he played was probably Jonathan Soriano,” he said. “He came from Barcelona to Salzburg and you could see the level that Barcelona had given him through his years. 

“He was a striker and I was a midfielder so we had that connection all the time. I learned a lot from him playing and off the pitch, he was a really good guy. 

“Maybe the best player I played with is probably Sadio [Mané]. You could see that potential was crazy even when he was young. And even the first year he didn’t start off really well but in the second year he went to another level.”

Header Image Credit: Melbourne City

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