Criticizing Yossi Benayoun is considered somewhat sacrilegious here in
However, I can’t help but feel that this time he has got it
There is little doubt that the 31- year-old midfielder is among
Israel’s greatest ever soccer players.
Such is Benayoun’s talent that
sports fans in Israel have been tracking his progress since his early
Unlike so many others, he has not only lived up to the
exceptionally high expectations, but actually exceeded them.
He even gave
his hometown of Dimona another claim to fame besides its neighboring nuclear
reactor and high unemployment rate.
The only thing that seemed to match
his performances on the field was his judgment off it, but if the early signs
are anything to go by, he may well live to regret his choice to join Arsenal on
a one-year loan deal from Chelsea hours before the August transfer window
Benayoun was one of five players Arsenal brought aboard in the
aftermath of the 8-2 thrashing by Manchester United on August 28. But while the
likes of Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta have become key members of the team,
the Israel captain has had to remain content with a substitute’s role.
huge part of Benayoun’s success has been the choices he made during his
His decisions to use Maccabi Haifa as a stepping stone to Europe
and to begin his continental career at small Spanish La Liga club Racing
Santander have become the blueprint every Israeli player aspires to
Benayoun never allowed short-term frustration to affect the course
of the career he envisioned for himself, patiently and consistently improving
his game in three seasons at Santander before breaking into the English Premier
League with a move to West Ham United in 2005/06.
Benayoun spent two
seasons in East London, and shortly after almost agreeing to a long-term
contract extension in the summer of 2007, he jumped at an offer to join
He took a pay-cut from what West Ham was offering, and despite
their reluctance, the Hammers eventually released him in a £5 million
Despite having to get used to not being the focal point of his team
for the first time in his career, Benayoun became an important player at
Liverpool, making 48 appearances – including 27 in the starting lineup – and
scoring 11 goals in his first season at the club.
Benayoun even managed
to establish himself as a regular starter in the second half of his second
season in Merseyside, an especially difficult task under fickle manager Rafa
He scored crucial goals in the Champions League and Premier
League, with his 82nd minute winner against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu
in the last 16 of the Champions League in February 2009 to forever remain one of
the most memorable strikes by an Israeli player.
relationship with Benitez soured during the 2009/10 campaign, with Benayoun
claiming the Spaniard “never treated me with the respect I
That led to his departure for Chelsea in July of last year,
which seemed at the time as yet another amazing step up in his remarkable
But as things currently stand, that transfer could end up being
looked upon as the beginning of the end.
Benayoun sightings have been few
and far between since, with Yossi playing a peripheral role for the Blues even
before an Achilles injury suffered in October sidelined him for six
He ended up making only seven league appearances for Chelsea,
starting in just one match.
Matters got even worse when Andre Villas-Boas
replaced Carlo Ancelotti as manager.
It quickly became apparent that the
young Portuguese was not a big fan of the Israeli, leaving Benayoun to look
elsewhere for playing time.
Serie A club Roma as well as Liverpool,
Tottenham and Newcastle reportedly all showed interest, but Benayoun eventually
elected to go to Arsenal.
The only reason Benayoun decided to leave
Chelsea was due to a lack of minutes, but he achieved nothing by going to the
Apparently, a phone call from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was
what eventually convinced him to move to North London.
promised him plenty of action, but assuming he didn’t, Benayoun may have
overestimated his abilities by exchanging a Chelsea shirt for an Arsenal one
instead of moving to a smaller club.
Benayoun’s competitive nature is an
important part of his success, but he should have realized that he is unlikely
to get any considerable playing time at Arsenal.
It is an extraordinary
feat to be part of three massive clubs of the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and
But sadly, Benayoun has done little playing for the last two,
wasting the final years of his prime before the inevitable
Benayoun has started just three matches for Arsenal so far, two
of them in the lowly regarded Carling Cup, which is proof enough of his
importance, or lack of it, to Wenger’s squad.
He has made three
appearances as a substitute in Arsenal’s seven league matches since he joined,
and that is with the team still missing midfielders Jack Wilshere and Abou
Nothing can detract from Benayoun’s astonishing rags-to-riches
story, but the decision to go to Arsenal may have cost him his last chance to
shine at the top level.
It has been almost two years since we last
enjoyed Benayoun at his peak.
Of course, it is still possible he could
all of the sudden become a key player for Wenger, prompting Arsenal to make his
move from Chelsea permanent next summer.
However, for the time being,
Israeli soccer fans are just hoping they will have another chance to see
Benayoun at his best, something which is looking less and less likely with every
passing day.[email protected] Follow Allon Sinai on Twitter: @AllonSinai