Liverpool hat-trick hero from LASK died at 22 and had shirt number retired in his honour


Long before everyone was welcomed there by Hollywood superstars, Wrexham was a favourite destination for Rafael Benitez.

In each of the first four summers of the Spaniard's Liverpool reign the Reds would make the short journey to north east Wales to take on the Football League side in their opening pre-season friendly, with the games quickly becoming occasions 

In 2004, in what was Benitez's first ever Liverpool game in charge, a brace from Anthony Le Tallec gave the Reds a 2-1 win at a time when no-one could have expected what would come next. Fast forward 12 months, and Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were bringing the Champions League trophy onto the Racecourse Ground pitch before a 4-3 win which featured braces from Fernando Morientes and Milan Baros.

The latter two years of the fixture would see a mixture of squad and youth players feature due to international tournaments and other commitments, but on both occasions they provided Reds fans with a glimpse of the tall teenage forward Besian Idrizaj, an Austrian youth international of Kosovan descent who started 2006's 2-0 win upfront with Craig Bellamy. Then in 2007 he scored a hat-trick in the first 26 minutes of a 3-2 win. Tongues were wagging.

Idrizaj hadn't featured in a competitive first-team game since joining from LASK Linz in 2005 after a successful trial, signing a two-year deal with the option of a third, but he was desperate to get the opportunity.

He had initially been spotted by several scouts across the continent at the European Under-17 Championships in France in 2004, a tournament won by the hosts thanks to star turns from Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa. Idrizaj had joined LASK from the smaller Admira Linz club a year previously, and 2004-05 was to prove to be his big break as he featured 28 times for the first-team. His name was known across Europe, and Liverpool invited him for a trial.

"I have always been a Liverpool fan and it is a dream come true to play for them," he said after arriving during those heady post-Istanbul weeks for the club. "If you get a chance to go to Liverpool on trial then you have to take it. You cannot ignore a trial with the reigning Champions League winners. I would even have swum across the channel just to take part."

Having not yet turned 18 the Austrian was always going to be a signing for the youth ranks rather than the first team, and after initially suffering frustrating injuries in his first campaign the 6ft 2ins forward likened to Zlatan Ibrahimovic - his hero both in terms of playing style and personality - settled into Hughie McAuley and Gary Ablett's second-string side for 2006-07.

It was a squad dripping with talent, with the highly-rated defender Jack Hobbs having signed from Lincoln City, defender Godwin Antwi, who lived with Idrizaj, attracted from Zaragoza, exciting winger Paul Anderson brought in from Hull and Dutch forward Jordy Brouwer arriving from Ajax, all supplemented by emerging local talents Lee Peltier, Stephen Darby, Jay Spearing, Sean Highdale and Craig Lindfield, with those young enough going on to form the backbone of the team that would win the FA Youth Cup that season.

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