Melbourne City have announced the signing of 36-time Kosovan international Valon Berisha, who joins the club on a season long loan deal from Ligue 1 outfit Stade de Reims.
The midfielder joins the reigning premiers after a well tenured career which saw him play in a number of Europe’s top leagues – including the Italian Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga, Austria’s Bundesliga and the aforementioned French top flight.
Berisha featured most prominently for Austrian giants Red Bull Salzburg throughout the 2010’s, appearing 233 times in all competitions while scoring 45 times and providing 65 assists, all while being part of their five league titles and four domestic trophies between 2013 and 2018.
Most recently, Berisha has been plying his trade for Reims, where he played 37 league games following stints at Italian outfit Lazio and German side Fortuna Dusseldorf.
At an international level, the attacking midfielder has represented both Kosovo and Norway, having featured for Løvene on 20 occasions between 2012 and 2016 before switching his allegiance to the former after their admittance as a FIFA member – where he still is a regular fixture of their national team set-up.
But after falling out of favour with coach Oscar Garcia – the 29-year-old was looking for a “new experience” on the other side of the world with a familar name in Australian footballing circles – who played primarily for City’s cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory – helping sow the seeds of the eventual move down under.
“Agent Fahid (Ben Khalfallah), he was even playing here before, he was at the club because he brought over two youngsters from Australia (Mohamed Toure and Yaya Dukuly who signed for Reims in June) and we just had a talk,” Berisha told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
“He let me know everything and he said it could be a nice opportunity for you, and thinking about it and talking of course with my family, I found it to be a nice project for myself. It would also be a new experience and in life I like to challenge myself and go to other places.
“I think this opportunity is good for me and to be honest, to come to Melbourne City, it’s also a club that has been champions and I want to be a player to help build them and win the league this year, also.”
Another familiar name in local circles, who played with the incoming City midfielder at international level for Kosovo also reached out, with namesake and all-time leading A-League Men’s goalscorer Besart Berisha offering a helping hand in settling down but also speaking glowingly of his time in Australia’s sporting capital.
“I didn’t know too much but I had a friend Besart Berisha, who was playing over here and I know him quite well, and he was also with the national team,” the former Viking midfielder said.
“I remember him always talking really about especially Melbourne because he played most of his career here and he was talking really good things about it. Even when I came here, he reached out and told me really good things about it and also of course, if I needed something he would help out.
“In the process, he wasn’t involved but when I decided to come out here, then he reached out. From knowing from before, being in the national team he spoke really good about it and I remembered that.”
With City looking to fill the sizable hole left by Connor Metcalfe in the middle of the park, Berisha serves as a potential replacement for the outgoing Socceroo, who signed for 2.Bundesliga side FC St Pauli in the off-season.
He is also the third foreign signing by City this off-season, joining Dutch midfielder Richard van der Venne and Finnish international Thomas Lam on the books, and thus filling the final visa spot on their roster with championship winning players Florin Berenguer and Nuno Reis returning for another campaign.
Berisha will be competing with van der Venne and Socceroo Marco Tilio for a starting spot, as City look to go one step further this upcoming season and add a second A-League Men’s championship to their fast-filling trophy cabinet.
“I’ve been talking to the coach… and everbody has reached out,” Berisha said.
“Even Scott Jamieson, he reached out directly and said he was happy for me to be here and in the team. He gave me a really good feeling directly and I’m happy about that actually because in the end, if you get a really good vibe directly from the club and they want you to come here, then it’s an easier decision.
Despite joining City’s pre-season only weeks out from the beginnig of the new campaign, Berisha said he’s ready to go for the season opener against reigning champions Western United on October 7.
“Physically, I feel good. We started pre-season at the start of July, end of June even,” Berisha said.
“I’ve been training all the time so I’m obviously in good shape… I will train with them (the team) for a month and then I will be ready for the championship for sure.”