Besart Berisha is, by his own admission, living the dream. After numerous injury-plagued seasons and infrequent match time, the Kosovo-born, Berlin-raised striker is achieving unprecedented success with A-League champions Brisbane Roar.
Although an Albania international and with a spell in the Bundesliga, albeit briefly, on his resume, Berisha arrived in Australia with little fanfare and few expectations. Nine months later, the 26-year-old is a certified star as the focal point of the attack for the all-conquering Roar. Berisha’s 21-goal tally, including two in the championship decider, shattered the previous season record held by New Zealand sharpshooter Shane Smeltz.
A footballer’s lifestyle in the sun-drenched city of Brisbane, combined with success on the field, means Berisha couldn’t be happier, the recent signing of a two-year contract extension evidence of his satisfaction with what had initially been a step into the dark.
“I didn’t know what to expect in Brisbane,” Berisha told FIFA.com. “I am really enjoying my football and my life right now. I have been so surprised by the league, the life in Brisbane and Australia. I have found a fantastic team and club in Brisbane. This is probably the best time in my career right now. I’m very, very happy that I came to Brisbane.
“The team respects me and everyone respects each other. This is not always the case, and often there are co-operation problems. I have got my happiness back in Brisbane, and that had been missing for a long time.”
Berisha describes winning the A-League in front of 50,000 home fans last month as the highlight of his career, along with playing, and scoring, for Hamburg in the UEFA Champions League. That goal, back in 2006, saw Berisha become the first Albanian to net in the group stage of Europe's top club competition. It suggested a bright future, but stints in Denmark, England, Norway and finally back in Germany with Arminia Bielefeld were marked only by injury and dissatisfaction.
From escaping hardship to chasing history
Such lengthy periods of unhappiness would have halted lesser characters, but Berisha is clearly a strong-willed individual. It is a trait that was carved, in part at least, by a harsh childhood. In 1993, Berisha’s family fled Pristina in Kosovo amid the political turmoil in the Balkans. After a period in a refugee camp, the Berisha family were forced to start anew in Berlin.
“It was tough because when you come with nothing you experience hardship,” he explained. “My mother and father had to work hard to start a new life. For me it provided a special chance to do something with my football. So yes it was tough, but it was also helpful. Berlin was a good place to grow up in: a football city and a good city.
Berisha, with his trademark blond Mohawk, is renowned for his passion - something that has spilled over on a number of occasions, both in Australia and previously during a short stint in Denmark.
“In Berlin there are millions of talents,” he said. “It is not easy and you must be tough. This made me be stronger. This is probably why I sometimes use more passion than some others. This game has given me so much that I cannot see it only as a sport. For me it is my life."
Berisha hopes to one day restart his international career, having been a constant in the Albania side during their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying campaign. At the moment, however, the timing of the Australian season, combined with the huge travel involved, means Berisha has not appeared for his country in over 18 months.
For now, though, the focus is on helping the Roar to an unprecedented third successive title. Berisha’s synergy with former Brisbane coach Ange Postecoglou was clear, but if anything the relationship with new mentor Rado Vidosic could reach a new level again. After so many years of disappointment, the stars finally aligned for Berisha through a chance meeting with then Roar assistant coach. In Germany to visit son Dario at Bielefeld, Vidosic senior came across Berisha and the rest is history.
“For me it was not just lucky, but the best luck I have ever had,” said Berisha of that chance meeting. “I am so happy to find people like Ange and Rado, because when you have the right coaches in the right team, you can fly.”