Eyal Berkovic, one of Israel's greatest-ever soccer players, announced his retirement Sunday afternoon, officially ending a playing career that lasted 16 years.
Berkovic, 34, had a tumultuous and disappointing final season at Maccabi Tel Aviv but will be remembered for his earlier playing years at Maccabi Haifa and especially for successful seasons in the English Premier League and stellar performances for the national team.
"Last week's match against Hapoel Kfar Saba was my final game of soccer. I've decided to end this wonderful career," Berkovic wrote in a letter announcing his retirement that was sent to Maccabi Tel Aviv official Avner Twito. "I wanted to end my career quietly. I don't like goodbyes as they're too emotional for me, so please thank everybody for my retirement season. I enjoyed every moment despite the team's on-field disappointment."
Berkovic began his career with Maccabi Haifa in 1990, graduating from the club's youth department. The midfielder won a league and cup double in his first season with the team and played another five seasons for Maccabi Haifa, accumulating one more championship and two more State Cups.
He made his international debut in February 1992 and ended his career with 78 appearances and nine goals for the Israel national side.
Berkovic, nicknamed the "magician" for his passing ability, joined the English Premier League's Southampton in 1996 and quickly made his mark. Soon after signing, he scored twice and assisted on three goals in his team's sensational 6-3 victory over Manchester United.
After a single season with Southampton, Berkovic moved to West Ham United. Despite two good seasons at Upton Park, his time at the club will forever be remembered for the incident in which teammate and Welsh international John Hartson kicked the Israeli in the face during a training session.
Berkovic's career included a number of controversial incidents involving fellow players and managers as the size of his mouth was on par with the magnitude of his talent.
Not long after his skirmish with Hartson, Berkovic left West Ham for Scottish giant Celtic for a then-Scottishrecord transfer fee of 5.75 million.
The Israeli played well in his first few outings for the Scottish club, but after manager John Barnes was replaced by Martin O'Neil, the midfielder lost his place as a starter and fell out of favor with the new boss.
Berkovic's Celtic ordeal marked the start of the decline of his career. After one-and-a-half seasons in Scotland, he was loaned out to Blackburn Rovers and aided the team in its chase for promotion to the Premier League. The following season, Berkovic left for Manchester City and for the second straight season helped a team to Premiership promotion.
After becoming displeased with the amount of playing time he was getting, Berkovic left City in the middle of the 2003/04 season and joined newly-promoted Portsmouth. The midfielder had a forgettable 18 months at Pompey before eventually deciding to return to Israel to wrap up his career.
Berkovic was hoping to rejoin Maccabi Haifa, but after being embarrassed and turned away by his former club, he decided to join Maccabi Tel Aviv for what was meant to be an historic 100th year for the yellow-and-blue.
This season turned out to be nothing short of a catastrophe and Berkovic decided to call it a day, ending his career on a sour note.
"I think he could have continued for at least a couple more seasons," Maccabi captain Avi Nimni told The Jerusalem Post. "He had a wonderful career that will never be forgotten."
Maccabi released an official announcement that thanked Berkovic for his contribution to the team and also said the player's farewell match will be against Argentinian club Boca Juniors on May 18, a game that had been previously arranged to celebrate the club's 100th birthday.
Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin