Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The Skinny On Behrami

Full name: Valon Behrami
Date of birth: April 19, 1985
Birthplace: Kosovska Mitrovica, Serbia
Nationality: Swiss
2nd nationality: Albanian
EU passport: No
Height: 186 cms
Weight: 78 kgs
Position: Defender/Midfielder [R]
Squad Number: 85
Previous clubs: Stabio, Chiasso, Lugano, Genoa, Verona, Lazio
International debut: October 2005, v France

West Ham United have finally confirmed the signing of the highly regarded Switzerland international Valon Behrami in a £5 million deal from Serie A heavyweights Lazio. According to the official site the versatile performer, who can operate at right-back and across midfield, has already passed a medical and agreed a five-year contract.

Speaking this morning, a delighted Behrami, who will wear the No21 shirt next season, said: "I am very happy at last to be able to sign for West Ham. For me it is a dream come true to play for the club and in the Premier League. I am very much looking forward to becoming part of the team here. After the European Championships, I spoke with West Ham who expressed their interest in me coming here. It was important for me to talk with everyone here and, when I did, I was very pleased to see what they wanted from me and what the plans are now and in the future for the team. It was something that enabled me to make my decision very quickly and now I can't wait to train and play for West Ham."

West Ham United CEO Scott Duxbury said: "We are delighted to have signed Valon. We beat off a lot of interest from other clubs to get him and we are very pleased to now have him here at West Ham United. He is a player who will be a valuable addition to the squad as we aim for a successful season ahead. Valon's signing is also an indication of the club's positive ambitions and shows that, contrary to some reports, we are firmly committed to strengthening the playing staff. There will not be a mass exodus and fans can be assured that we are working hard as always to ensure high-calibre competition in all areas of the team."

Valon Behrami was born April 19, 1985 in Kosovska Mitrovica, Serbia. He came to Switzerland in 1990 as a five-year old, with his father Ragip, his mother Halime and his sister Valentina, aged eight. Prior to the move, the political and economic situation in his home town in northern Kosovo had deteriorated to the point where both parents had lost their jobs, the mother as a secretary, the father as manager of the plastics company Koplast. To offer their children a better future the Behramis finally left for Switzerland, moving to Stabio, a village in the Italian-speaking part of the country. For four long years, their asylum application had been repeatedly rejected until the concerted action of the family's lawyer, the relevant authorities and committees in Bellinzona and the family's entire scholastic and professional environment in southern Ticino finally obtained residence permits.

Looking back, Halime Behrami says: "As a child, running was Valon's favourite pastime – he just never got tired. Even now, he can hardly sit still for a second. He always needs a ball at his feet". As a youngster, Behrami won four regional cross-country titles. Needing other ways to channel his energy he started out playing football with Swiss club sides FC Stabio and FC Chiasso before moving on to FC Lugano in 1996. He made his first-team debut for the Challenge division side six years later and impressed sufficiently during a handful of early appearances to entice Italian sides Genoa and Udinese to enter into a joint ownership deal in the 2003–04 season. He played for Genoa in the Serie B championship and the following season Genoa secured the full rights to the player and loaned him out to Hellas Verona, again in Serie B.

After an impressive season with Hellas Verona, Lazio signed him in the summer of 2005. He quickly found favour with the club's supporters; scoring his first Serie A goal in February 2006 in a 2-1 win at Fiorentina. He rapidly became regarded as one of the Rome-based clubs untouchable players, but a succession of injury problems and contractual wranglings saw Behrami linked with a move away from Stadio Olimpico- with Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Sevilla Hamburg and Bayern Munich known to be among his admirers. In March of this year he etched his name into Lazio folklore with the 92nd minute winning goal against AS Roma in the 'Derby della Capitale'; a goal that effectively ended their rival's challenge for the Scudetto. Last season was an injury troubled campaign which saw Behrami, like most his teammates, struggling for form and fitness. The fact he also played often out of position on the left side of midfield did little to help his cause. Earlier in the year he did make his UEFA Champions League bow in a 2-2 draw at home to Real Madrid.

Behrami was granted Swiss nationality in 2004. He played for U17s, U18s, U19s and U21s before making his full international debut as a substitute in Switzerland's World Cup qualifier at home to France in October 2005. One month later, he scored his adopted country's second goal in their 2-0-playoff win at home to Turkey. During the 2006 World Cup, Behrami suffered a groin injury which put him on the sidelines for the first two group matches. In the third match against Korea Republic, he was substituted late in the game and then did not participate in the loss to Ukraine in the last 16 knockout round of matches. Over the next two years Behrami established himself as a regular on the international scene and he was in the starting eleven for Switzerland in all three matches during the recent UEFA European Football Championship playing a total of 272 minutes.

Despite his regular inclusion, Behrami has developed the reputation of being an outsider within the Swiss squad; something not helped by the language and cultural barriers within the group. With his tattoos (he has a prominant one on his right arm displaying the gothic letters RVHV which stands for Ragip, Valentina, Halime and Valon), frequently-changing haircuts and high profile romance with Italian model girlfriend Elena Bonzanni, Behrami has often been dubbed "Switzerland's David Beckham". Behrami is set to meet his new team-mates for the first time when they return from the North American tour at the weekend.

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