Back in the year 2005, there were some 25 or more Brazilian players who graced
the fields of Israeli soccer clubs. Names like Indio, Duarte, Romulo, Fabio
Junior, Gabriel Lima, Bruno Reis and Dirceu readily come to mind. Some moved on
after a year or two, while others settled in for a longer run.
Boccoli, whose career spans more than a decade, emerged as one of the top
foreign players ever to have played in Israel and Douglas Da Silva is ranked
alongside Arik Benado, Tal Ben-Haim and Shimon Gershon as one of the most
dominant defenders in a generation.
The Boys from Brazil left an
indelible imprint on the pitch, as well as a legacy in the communities where
they toiled. With their outgoing and genial demeanor, good humor and warm
nature, they were embraced by the local fans like members of their extended
They were driven not only by a strong will to succeed but also by
a quest for acceptance by the soccer aficionados as one of their
It’s mind boggling that none of them spoke Hebrew, only a handful
could utter words in English, and only those from the urban communities of San
Paulo or Rio could understand Spanish, but through sheer willpower they managed
to communicate with coaches and fellow players through sign language or soccer
idioms within days of their arrival. They also had a yen for adopting slang
expressions like “Haval Al Hazman,” and “Al Hapanim”, which evoked instant
laughter and approval from the local fans.
The formula for their success
Soccer, like coffee, is a major Brazilian export commodity,
and soccer players from Brazil have been reared to travel from an early
From Malta to Malaysia and from Aberdeen to Azerbaijan, the
Brazilians arrive in waves to energize and entertain their fans and steadfastly
align themselves with their mission and destiny in the process.
longevity of players like Boccoli, Indio and Da Silva, there are some whose
early exit was not reasonably foreseen. Bruno Reis was arguably the best central
midfielder in Israel for a brief run when he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the group
stage of the Champions League in 2004/05.
However, Bruno was noted for
his flair for partying, a lifestyle which in time compromised his performance on
the pitch and caused him to fall into disfavor with coach Nir Klinger, who sent
him packing with still a year left on his contract to the beach of Copa Cabana
of his native Rio.
Bruno’s closest sidekick, Gabriel Lima, was a one year
sensation at Bnei Sakhnin where he led the club to the State Cup in 2004, but
his nocturnal merrymaking together with Bruno also caused his game to
deteriorate during the following season when he moved to Bnei Yehuda.
bounced around several clubs thereafter, both in Israel and abroad, but was
never a factor in those venues.
Finally, Fabricio Bento, a charming and
amiable central defender who played for Betar Jerusalem, was released by coach
Eli Ohana at the end of the season without even a bare acknowledgment of his
contribution to the club.
It’s mind-boggling to see, notwithstanding the
mark that the Boys from Brazil have left on Israeli soccer, that in the current
season there are only about a handful remaining in Israel.
for this decline in their numbers cut across economic and political lines which
are also intertwined. One factor is the cost of airfare from Brazil, which has
more than doubled in the past seven years.
Since only the biggest clubs,
i.e, Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv, have traditionally
sponsored airfare for trialists, the burden of springing for the airfare has
fallen on the players and their families.
As the costs spiraled, fewer
and fewer players were positioned to assume this cost. Furthermore, a recent
regulation introduced by the Interior Ministry imposes a security deposit of
$4,000 on all clubs which invite Brazilians and other Latin American players for
a trial or impression.
This policy, which formerly applied only to
African players, entails a burden which many clubs, especially those faced with
staggering financial problems, are unable or unwilling to meet.
result, I was forced to abort trial arrangements for two Brazilian players who
were earmarked for Ness Ziona and Umm Al-Fahm of the second division.
decline in the numbers of Brazilians and their Latin American neighbors has
created a vacuum in the foreign slots which are allotted to the clubs under
Israel Football Association rules; i.e., five for Premier League clubs and three
for those in the second division.
This vacuum quickly became filled by an
influx of Eastern European players, principally those from the former Yugoslav
Leading the pack are the Serbs, which now number more than 20,
followed by Croats, Montenegrins and Slovenians. In the aggregate, Eastern
Europeans now account for approximately 50 percent of the estimated 100 foreign
players in Israel.
The explanation for this upheaval in the makeup of
foreign players is quite elementary.
As a rule, Eastern European players
whose countries are now members of the Schengen Block do not need a visa to
This does not negate the requirement that every foreign
player coming to Israel to train or sign a contract must obtain a permit from
the Interior Ministry, but it simplifies the entire process in terms of time and
Moreover, and far more material, is the fact that Eastern European
players are exempt from the Security Deposit requirement.
the modest airfares of roundtrips between Tel Aviv and nearby cities like
Belgrade and Zagreb, it is easy to understand why the clubs have in essence
opened up their floodgates to the Eastern Europeans.
I have contacted the
Brazilian Embassy in Tel Aviv in order to ascertain the basis of this new policy
which has resulted in the disparity of treatment accorded to Brazilians and
other Latin Americans as opposed to Eastern European players. In time, I hope
that this policy will be rescinded and a level playing field will be restored,
so that a more balanced look in the composition of foreign players will
emerge.Don Barnett is an IFA Player’s agent who currently resides in
Munich. A native of Jerusalem, he grew up in the US, where he practiced law and
mediation. He also coached soccer and basketball in various youth leagues and
wrote a sports column for several Jewish publications.
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