Goalscorers will always steal the headlines; ask any goalkeeper. Besart Berisha did it at Brisbane Roar, Archie Thompson at Melbourne Victory and Michael Theo was in goal for both teams while they did. At Perth Glory this season Andy Keogh is doing the same, and the performances of Danny Vukovic are often being passed over. That is football.
Andy Keogh’s strike for the opening goal against Melbourne Victory was quality. He eased passed a labouring Adrian Leijer and then fired a superb angled shot past Nathan Coe.
This was a goal that showed the quality of Andy Keogh, and how important a striker who can finish opportunities is to a team.
The A-League has in truth lacked true goalscorers in the mould of Keogh and Berisha. Shane Smeltz has been the only player to win the golden boot two years in a row at Wellington Phoenix and then Gold Coast United, but none of the other winners of this award have had their name on the lips of fans across the country, with the possible exception of veteran Daniel McBreen in 2012/13 when his goals helped the Central Coast Mariners to their first Championship.With McBreen it was the romance of a veteran who appeared unwanted, scoring consistently to win a new contract and a League title.
Keogh and Berisha though stand apart. They are special, in that both players have the ability to make you watch the game closer when the ball comes near them. Both make intelligent runs, both are physically strong, both know where the goal is and can arrive at the perfect moment to tap a ball over the line, or turn a defender and rifle a shot home from the edge of the area. They have that “X factor.” Both are what the A-League needs. These are true marquee players, as they pull people through the turnstiles.
It is interesting to compare the two. Keogh played in the English Premier League with Wolverhampton Wanderers, having been a key player in helping them gain promotion playing 42 of 46 games, despite scoring their first goal in their return to the Premier League his opportunities were limited due to injury.
Besart Berisha signed for Bundesliga side Hamburg in 2004 but struggled to break into the side and was sent out on loan. In 2006 he made his Bundesliga debut and also became the first Albanian to score in the group stages of the Champions League. Having made 14 appearances that season a change in coach saw Berisha out of favour.
Berisha tried his luck with Burnley in England but struggled and eventually returned to the second division of the Bundesliga before heading to Australia. His form in Germany was again far from impressive with his appearances limited, just 2 goals in 28 appearances.
Keogh left Wolves and went back to the Championship first of all on loan to Cardiff City, Bristol City and Leeds United, before a permanent move to Millwall. Like Berisha his goals per game ratio was nothing to write home about, but the word is he was often used as a holding striker, which is something many fail to take into account when judging statistics.
Unlike many other players from overseas Keogh has come to Australia aged 28. Berisha was 26 when he signed for Brisbane Roar. Both still have plenty of game time left in them.
Berisha scored 48 goals in 76 games for Brisbane Roar, and has 7 goals in 12 games this season for Melbourne Victory. Andy Keogh in his first season, one where many new players struggle has 8 goals from 13 games.
Fans love goalscorers. These two players show that the A-League needs players who have played at the top level but maybe did not get the breaks required. These types of players need to come to Australia while they still have age and a desire to play on their side. There is no need to be bringing over big name players who are well past their best. The likes of del Piero may bring Sydney FC publicity, but they cost the club financially and they won nothing.
Australia has an obsession with South American players but once again how many have performed at a continually high level in the A-League? Fred was outstanding for Melbourne Victory but never had the same impact at Wellington Phoenix or Melbourne Heart. Amaral was sheer class for Glory until he was injured. Marcos Flores shone brightly but only momentarily. The same could be said for Henrique and Sidnei at Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory respectively, both show glimpses of the talent they possess, but lack the consistency to bring it week in week out; that is why they are playing in the A-League. Finkler at Melbourne Victory is more consistent but still not influencing the games from midfield as much as his coaching staff or the fans would like, although one feels that day is not too far away. Even Carlos Hernandez from Costa Rica only showed A-League fans a glimpse of his talents, and like Fred and Marcos Flores, never matched his form at Melbourne Victory.
Is it to do with geography or is it simply the age at which a player is brought to the A-League? Is it a gamble in as much as a coach can never be 100% clear on a player’s attitude until he sees him at training? Look at Western Sydney Wanderers who identified Vitor Saba two years ago and now want offload him not even halfway through a two year contract. It is never an exact science. Some players play better under certain coaches, some players suit a certain style of play, some players do get homesick and struggle to settle. There are so many variables to consider when recruiting a player.
Despite all of that two of the best recruits to the A-League in terms of their quality, their ability, their desire, and their ability to excite, would have to be Besart Berisha and Andy Keogh. Will coaches analyse why they have been so successful, what their pedigree was and the ages at which they have come to Australia? We will all have to wait and see. Let us hope that they manage to unearth more of the same.