21 Midfielder Red Bull Salzburg Norway
2014 has been...
Destroyed by injury. Red Bull Salzburg’s Norwegian midfielder Valon Berisha, positively reviewed here a year ago, sustained a nasty knee ligament injury – complete with surgery-delaying open wound – whilst keeping up his fitness away from the club in the summer. He is expected to return during the winter months and will be a most welcome addition to Adi Hütter’s midfield corps.
Up until that point Berisha’s injury record had been good and his 2014 performances had been decent enough too, though he was for much of the back end of last season rotated in and out of games as substitute or substituted.
Berisha was born in the Swedish city of Malmö but grew up and played his youth football in Norway, where he played through the ranks at Egersunds IK and broke into the first team in 2008. In 2009 he headed for Viking FK in Stavanger, and then moved on to Salburg in 2012. It was the latest in a string of smart, long-term choices made at the expense of taking the quick route to the top which he has been offered at various points. They’ve undoubtedly benefited his development.
There were and are choices to be made at international level too. He took the natural route in playing for Norway over Sweden at Under-17 and Under-19 levels, and became a full international in 2012, just shy of his 19th birthday and still at Viking. 12 more caps have followed but there was an offer from elsewhere in February. Berisha has ethnic Albanian roots and links to Kosovo, whose interest in him when they began playing friendlies met with no decision. He has since played in friendlies for Norway.
He’d be an asset to many teams, be they clubs or national sides, because he’s got the makings of a fine midfielder. He is a self-professed bag of energy, always buzzing around looking for the ball and making himself available for a pass practically anywhere on the field. It’s an innate characteristic that he’s had to learn to control due to his rehabilitation and its demands of patience.
On the field, he drops deep to receive the ball, runs forward with intent and aggression, gives it to a colleague and then goes again; he never stops. Berisha is both a driving force from midfield and a low-level creative influence for club and country. It’s not versatility, exactly, but it’s a handy dual role nonetheless.
In possession Berisha is blessed with impressive upper body strength that makes him difficult to knock off the ball. He has a good change of pace and a silky first touch. He’s both a passer with a fighter and a fighter who never gives up a cause, a ball or a match without a fight. He can be a nibbler, too, though he’s not necessarily dirty and he doesn’t get booked too often. That’s a result of the calm disposition we mentioned last time out and it will only get even better with age.
With no immediate one-time switch to Kosovo on the horizon, and no club football yet played this season, 2015 is about nothing more than fitness and form. Players often struggle to find their old groove for a while after coming back from knee ligament injuries, and Berisha’s feted stamina will either help him find his rhythm quickly or be difficult to rediscover in the early part of next year.
Hütter and Salzburg will need to ease him back in and that won’t be too tricky for them. It might even be argued that Berisha might find it hard to get back into the team. Stefan Ilsanker has been a regular in the Salzburg midfield of late, with various other frequent selections around him.
In terms of youngsters with different roles to Berisha, Marcel Sabitzer and Kevin Kampl have been in fantastic form. Along with 18-year-old Valentino Lazaro, they are players who threaten to overshadow Berisha as Salzburg’s “next big thing”.
Either way, he found himself used more sparingly in 2013/14 than the previous campaign. In his first year at the club he made 29 Bundesliga starts and came on once as a substitute, being replaced 15 times. Last season he started 16 times and came on 16 times, and was substituted in ten games. So, the challenge of growing competition was there in May and it’s still there in December. There’s just the troublesome matter of being injured to get over first.
Like every player on this list Berisha has attracted attention from more glamorous leagues. Liverpool in particular are thought to have had eyes for him for some time, with interest reported again in January and February of this year. The Reds will no doubt be looking elsewhere in the next couple of transfer windows and it’s just as well. Berisha has work to do.
"If 2013 was low-key, 2014’s been a year for patience on Berisha’s part. As a player nothing much has changed in the last twelve months, but the challenge facing him when he returns from a long-term injury is going to be his biggest yet. Salzburg, meanwhile, will have competition for places." - Chris Nee
"Only one player (Peter Gulacsi) played more games than Berisha in RB Salzburg's Europa League run last season." - OptaJoe
D Robbed of more than six months through injury.
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