You either love him or hate him. But however you might feel towards him, you
simply cannot ignore Eran Zahavi.
No one in Israeli sports plays the
roles of hero and villain better than the Maccabi Tel Aviv
Take Monday night for example.
penalty in the 29th minute secured Maccabi a 1-0 victory over Hapoel in the
first Tel Aviv derby of the season, increasing the defending-champion’s lead at
the top of the Premier League standings to four points.
Zahavi took his
tally in 12 league matches this season to seven goals and further cemented his
reputation as a player who never fails to show up on the big occasion.
the other hand, there was Zahavi’s goal celebration.
The 26-year-old has
a long history with Hapoel fans, having left the club in the summer of 2011 for
Italian side Palermo before returning to Israel to play for archrival Maccabi in
There is no reason to envy Zahavi for the never-ending abuse
directed at him from Hapoel fans since his move to the yellowand- blue,
especially when he comes up against his former team.
However, that can be
no excuse for Zahavi’s premeditated decision to celebrate his goal from the
penalty spot by firing imaginary shots, with his fingers acting as the guns,
towards the Hapoel stand.
With guns unfortunately being prevalent in
Israeli society, mainly due to the security situation in the country, the last
thing a sporting role model like Zahavi should do is incite rival fans by
pretending to shoot at them.
But for better or for worse, that is
While many players make an effort not to celebrate a goal against
their former teams, whether they truly mean it or not, Zahavi couldn’t care less
of what anyone else might think of him.
“I wasn’t celebrating anything
special,” said Zahavi in a somewhat misleading manner on Monday. “Every time I
score a goal against Hapoel the media makes a huge story out of it. I scored the
goal in front of their stand so I celebrated there. It is their right to do what
they want to do and it is my right to celebrate the way I want to. It’s my
obligation to celebrate after scoring a goal.”
After scoring his first
goal for Maccabi against Hapoel in April’s 2-0 victory at Bloomfield, Zahavi
enthusiastically climbed on the advertising boards and frantically waved his
yellow shirt over his head in front of the Maccabi fans in an unforgettable and
arguably over-the-top celebration.
It was remarkably reminiscent of his
celebration on May 15, 2010, a day Hapoel supporters will never
After clinching the championship for his team in the most
dramatic of fashions with a goal against Beitar Jerusalem two minutes into
stoppage time, Zahavi jumped up into the Hapoel stand at Teddy Stadium and
celebrated like a man possessed.
It is this unrelenting passion for the
game which makes Zahavi such a divisive figure.
“He is a player who lives
the game perhaps more than anybody else,” Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa said on
Monday. “He loves soccer and everything he does in training and in matches comes
from his love of the game. He is also a very emotional person besides that, and
that is something which I love as a coach. I always say that it isn’t just
important to win, but to also feel the desire and passion to win and Eran has
After playing a key role in Hapoel’s run to the championship in
2009/10, and in the club’s progress to the Champions League group stage the
following season, Zahavi became the second Israeli to play in Italy’s Serie A
after signing a five-year deal with Palermo.
He scored a goal 15 seconds
into his first start for the team, but never really settled at the club and came
back home to help the yellow-and-blue in its push for a first league title in 10
Zahavi ended up proving crucial to Maccabi’s league triumph,
finishing the season with seven goals in 16 appearances.
At the start of
the 2013/14 campaign, he picked up where he left off, and despite playing as a
midfielder, he is currently second only to Omer Damari with seven league
Zahavi also contributed three goals in five appearances in the
Europa League group stage, helping Maccabi advance to the knockout rounds in
continental competition for the first time in club history.
But it’s not
just that Zahavi scores so many goals for a midfielder, as well as making the
players around him better.
A closer look at Zahavi’s statistics at
Maccabi reveals that the team has never lost when he has scored.
has found the back of the net 18 times in 15 different matches in all
competitions since January, with the team winning 12 of those encounters and
drawing the remaining three games.
There seemed to be little doubt Zahavi
would score when he stepped up to take the penalty on Monday, and like the
reliable hero, or perhaps villain, he is, he duly completed the job when so many
others would have quivered under the pressure.
“Sometimes I hear fans say
that ‘you should play for the emblem on the shirt’. I play for myself because
after two inaccurate passes the fans are already cursing you,” said Zahavi after
leaving Hapoel for Palermo.
Zahavi is possibly the most antagonizing
player in the league, but that is only because he is so good.
detractors are quick to admit to his excellence on the field. It simply cannot
With a relatively low buy-out clause of a million Euros,
Zahavi did his best to remain diplomatic when asked on Monday if he will be
leaving Maccabi in the summer, saying that “anything is possible in life.” One
fan’s hero is always another’s villain, but Zahavi seems indifferent to what
anyone might think of him. He is determined to make it to the top and he will
step on whoever he needs to on his way there.
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