Israel footballers seem to be going from strength to strength these days. Following on the heels of Avraham Grant’s success at coaching the London based Chelsea Football Club to several victories (yes, the Brits now know who he is) Israeli mid-fielder Yossi Benayoun scored no less than three outstanding goals on Tuesday to help lead the Liverpool football team to an amazing 8-0 victory over a hapless visiting Besiktas football team. Yossi’s hat-trick goals were not only brilliant but they helped inspire his club to literally pulverize the hapless Turkish squad. “It was like going to a turkey shoot, and they (Besiktas) were the turkeys” many fans were saying following the match.
Benayoun, who also plays “occasionally” on his country’s National Team (he’s the captain), joins a list of other successful footballers who are making their mark playing for teams in the U.K. and elsewhere. As for Grant, he came on board the Chelsea Club in what could only be described as one of the club’s worst times. Though many fans and sports reporters gave him less than two weeks to survive at Chelsea, Grant proved them wrong and his team is now ranked no. 5 in the English Premier League.
Other Israelis who have been successful on foreign teams include controversial striker Eyal Berkovitz who had to put up with a lot of crap from both fellow players and fans when he played in the U.K. All this may be changing now as the success of Israeli players and coaches seem destined to be a fact in the U.K. Another Israeli footballer, Ben Shahar is only 18, yet has already played for two English teams, Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers. Shahar is one of the youngest Israelis ever to have this opportunity, made possible due to his acquiring Polish citizenship which allowed him to play in the U.K. since Poland is also an E.U. member.
There’s no doubt that more Israeli footballers will seek their playing fortunes outside of their homeland as the temptation of much higher salaries and bonuses is too much to pass up. What’s needed now, however, is for an Israeli team to achieve greatness by qualifying for the World Cup Football Competition. This feat has not been done since the late 1960’s when an Israeli football team did qualify but were afterwards eliminated early in the competition. Israeli young men having to serve three years of military duty, something not required in the U.K. and in other E.U. countries, is a big problem, along with a problem of encouraging and training young Israeli athletes to pursue a career in professional football. A few years ago, an aspiring Israel Hapoel Football squad nearly made it into the quarter finals of the FA Cup competition, which might have led to a World Cup bid.
The success of players like Benayoun and Shahar may change all of this, however. What is needed is motivation, good training, and plenty of inspiration. Grant will probably not remain forever in the U.K., and perhaps he will be willing to coach an Israeli national team to qualify again for a World Cup berth. If they make it, the Israeli team will just have to contend with teams from the U.K., Spain, France, Brazil, Germany, and other countries. But that’s how it works!