Following a breakdown in talks with Sampdoria, reports have quickly gathered over the last few days now regarding a possible move to Lazio for RB Salzburg midfielder Valon Berisha.
Football Italia and Gianluca Di Marzio had suggested that the Kosovan international had been set for a medical with the blucerchiati, but the move has stalled. No official reason has been released but suggestions abound of a bidding war between the interested parties, as well as potential interest from England.
With Lazio having just completed their first official signing of the summer in Riza Durmisi, there is a sense that Igli Tare and co. have started work in earnest with regards to player acquisition. Here, we take a closer look at Berisha and what he would bring to the biancocelesti.
Much like Durmisi (and Lazio’s first Berisha, Etrit, who is now at Atalanta), Berisha is of Albanian origin born in Scandinavia – Sweden to be exact – but started his footballing career in Norway, making appearances for the senior National Team before receiving official FIFA dispensation to change allegiance to Kosovo.
This potentially bodes well for Lazio – as The Laziali have pointed out, Igli Tare has historically done well in bringing players of Albanian background to the Olimpico.
Berisha quickly developed a stellar reputation as a youth player in Norway, making his debut for Egersunds IK at just 15 years old. Turning down contracts with clubs in the English Premier League, he elected to mature in an environment where he could get regular football – and it paid dividends, as he worked his way through the national side’s youth rankings to make his senior debut at just 19.
Following a move from Viking in 2012, Berisha has been a fixture of the RB Salzburg midfield for 6 consecutive seasons being an attack-minded midfielder largely occupying central or left-sided slots. In the two games against Lazio in the Europa League in 2017-18, Berisha occupied a left-central midfield slot in a 4-3-3 in the first leg, and a central slot as part of a 4-4-2 in the second.
On WhoScored.com, looking at players who played a minimum of 8 Europa League games this season, Berisha ranks as the 8th-highest rated player of the competition for the 2017-18 season; ahead of Lucas Leiva, Koke, and Jack Wilshere, to name a few prominent players in a similar position in the competition.
Somewhere between a number 10 and a number 8, Berisha can remind observers of a player like Frank Lampard – just as comfortable finding space at the edge of the box as he is getting on the end of crosses to finish.
In his youth known more as player to dribble at pace at opposition players, it was in RB Salzburg’s run to a Europa League semi-final that we saw how effective an all-round midfielder Berisha has grown to be. Not only was he producing an average of 3.2. tackles per game, he was contributing 2.5 key passes as well in the competition (as per WhoScored). The attacking tendencies were not forgotten either, with Berisha scoring a brace to help eliminate Borussia Dortmund; scoring what we thought was a consolation effort in Lazio’s 4-2 win at Olimpico, and providing an assist in the return leg in that 5-minute implosion in Salzburg.
13 goals and 9 assists in 40 appearances suggests a Berisha has matured from rough diamond to something approaching a finished article – the performances in the Europa League illustrating the need for a greater challenge than the Austrian Bundesliga can provide for a 25-year old international of his calibre.
How would he fit into this Laziali side?
It depends to some extent on Inzaghi’s tactical shape for the season ahead – we can assume that the team will assume the 3-5-1-1 formation that’s served Lazio well over the last couple of seasons.
In Berisha’s standout performance this season against Dortmund, he played in a central-midfield position, bursting forward. With Sergej Milinkovic-Savic likely to leave this summer, and Marco Parolo not getting any younger, it’s easy to imagine Berisha slotting in as a forward-thinking central midfielder.
The key, for Lazio, is timing – for a couple of reasons. First of all, the aforementioned Milinkovic-Savic. If Lotito realises his dream of selling the Serbian for €100m+, any transfer involving Lazio will be inflated dramatically afterwards. With Transfermarkt.co.uk valuing Berisha at £9m (marked higher than the €7m quoted in Football Italia), Lotito and Tare would do well to get this piece of business concluded before the big sale of the summer.
Secondly – there is the competition: rumours are swirling that Newcastle, amongst other English clubs, are interested – something Berisha has confirmed. In an interview with Norway’s TV2 he said “There is an interest there, but there is nothing on the table that I have to decide on yet. England is the dream and we will see what it will be like.” (via YahooSport). Growing up in Scandinavia in the era he did, Berisha would have had a lot of exposure to the English Premier League and with an offer likely to be far in excess of Lazio’s resources, Tare could have his work cut out to land him.
Consider this one a coup if it happens!