Out of doghouse, Betar’s Eran Levy sheds bad rep
By ALLON SINAI
It is hard to think of a more maligned player in Israeli soccer than Eran
The 27-year-old’s physique has been the subject of sporting
talkshows for years, and not for good reasons.
The fact of the matter is
that Levy is overweight.
He’s not what you would consider fat or obese,
but you are unlikely to find a stockier player in the Israeli Premier
However, despite not being the leanest or fittest player around,
Levy is one of the main reasons behind Betar Jerusalem’s resurgence this
The Or Akiva native was earmarked as a future star as a teenager
at Maccabi Haifa, making his debut for the senior side as a 17- year-old in the
There was never any doubt regarding the god-given gift
Levy possessed in his left foot, but it also quickly became apparent that he was
going to struggle to fulfill his potential if he didn’t start behaving in the
manner required by a professional player.
The temperamental midfielder
left Haifa in 2005 in his search of more playing time, suiting up for seven
different clubs until joining Betar midway through the 2011/12
Levy made little impression at Maccabi Tel Aviv, Ironi Kiryat
Shmona, Maccabi Netanya and Hapoel Acre and his playing career looked to be all
but over in the summer of 2007 when he joined the beach soccer league looking to
make ends meet.
His superb performances on the sand convinced Hapoel
Haifa to give him another chance and he found a home at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium,
scoring 30 goals in 94 appearances for the club.
conduct both on and off the field saw him clash with coach Shlomi Dora time and
again, with Levy leaving Haifa for short stints at Hapoel Ashkelon and Hapoel
Beersheba before ultimately returning to the one club at which he always seemed
Levy also began last season as a Haifa red, but he signed for
the floundering Betar in the last day of January 2012, surely his final chance
to succeed at one of Israel’s big clubs.
Just a couple of weeks later,
Betar sacked coach Yuval Naim and replaced him with Eli Cohen, an old-fashioned
authoritarian of the likes that generally despise Levy’s type.
clashed in Cohen’s very first day at the club, with Levy not showing up for
training after calling in sick.
Levy didn’t turn up the following day
either, but Cohen had heard that he had been seen out on town and ordered him to
arrive immediately or his contract would be terminated.
relationship with Cohen got off to the worse possible start, it was of little
surprise that Levy only recorded the occasional appearance from the substitutes’
However, Betar’s dire financial state combined with its lack of
attacking options, left Cohen with no real choice but to start with Levy in the
closing stages of last season and he played a key role in the team’s eight-match
winning streak which secured it another season of top-flight
Despite their rollercoaster relationship, Cohen asked chairman
Itzik Kornfein to extend Levy’s contract for the 2012/13 campaign, hoping that
he had finally tamed the beast.
Cohen could not solve Levy’s weight
issues, but he believed he discovered how to get the best out of him under the
But it wouldn’t be long before the two were at odds once
more, with Cohen criticizing the player on TV following the team’s 2-1 defeat at
Ashdod SC in its third match of the season.
“Eran Levy was poor,” said an
outraged Cohen after introducing the midfielder as a 72nd-minute substitute. “He
will play when he does what he’s told.”
Cohen had also humiliated Levy
after one of the team’s other matches, pointing out in front of the entire squad
that he had only run 5.4 kilometers compared to most of his teammates who
completed over 10.
However, Betar also lost its following match 1-0 to
Hapoel Acre, picking up just a single point from its first four games of the
Both Cohen and Levy realized that it was in their mutual interest
to resolve their differences and the midfielder returned to the starting lineup
for the match against Hapoel Ramat Gan, scoring in the 2-2 draw.
since started in 10 of Jerusalem’s 14 league encounters, with Betar losing just
once in that stretch.
Jerusalem’s 2-0 victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv at
Bloomfield Stadium on Monday lifted it up to fourth place in the standings, just
seven points from Maccabi Tel Aviv in first.
A team that seemed destined
to fight relegation has all of a sudden become a dark horse to win the
Plenty of that is down to Levy’s play in recent months and
his willingness to conform to Cohen’s strict manner.
Levy will likely
never realize his full potential, but he is no longer haunted by the past and is
determined to make the most of his chance at Betar.
He may not be the
model professional, but an in-form Levy remains one of the most exciting players
to watch in the league and Betar will only go as far as he takes