For someone who has won Premier League and State Cup titles and made 10 appearances for the Israel national team, a second- division match in front of several hundred fans shouldn’t even register as a footnote in his resume.
But despite an illustrious career, Hapoel Katamon’s 1-0 loss to Hapoel Upper Nazareth at Green Stadium two weeks ago will be remembered as one of the most significant games in Aviram Bruchian’s life.
Ever since he made his debut for Beitar as a 17-year-old in 2002/03, Bruchian was labeled as the future star of the team.
Being the nephew of Beitar legend Uri Malmilian only added to his lure and he finally made his long awaited breakthrough in 2005/06 under coach Luis Fernandez. He won league titles with Beitar in 2006/07 and 2007/08, while also claiming the cup in 2008 and 2009.
Bruchian made his debut for the national team as a 22-year-old and was named as the Beitar captain in 2009.
He seemed to have a blindly bright future ahead of him.
But from very early on, there was a dark cloud hovering over his career. A fondness for gambling ultimately grew into an addiction, one which threatened to completely derail his life.
Two months ago, Katamon released a statement saying Bruchian will be out of action due to a “serious” personal issue.
“After difficult deliberations, Hapoel Katamon Jerusalem’s management decided that the team’s player Aviram Bruchian will miss the team’s games and training sessions due to a serious personal problem that requires a significant and unorthodox treatment,” read the statement.
It was soon revealed that Bruchian had entered a rehab clinic.
His debts had reached an estimated hundreds of thousands of shekels, and after he had failed to live up to his promises that he will never bet again, Katamon’s bosses understood they had no choice but to intervene.
They had already visited the rehab clinic in advance and took care of all the details before confronting Bruchian. All they needed was Bruchian’s approval. He initially rejected the idea, worried about what it would do to his reputation.
Bruchian quickly understood though that it was time to confront his demons.
Bruchian had been linked with gambling long before this year.
Within six months in 2007 he was involved in two related incidents.
In February, he was among eight players from Israel’s under-21 national team who were caught playing cards for money ahead of a friendly match against Ukraine. In July, Beitar manager Giora Spiegel warned the players about visiting casinos during their training camp in the Netherlands. Bruchian and two other players were nevertheless spotted in a casino in Eindhoven.
After a month in rehab and little connection with the outside world, Bruchian returned to training at the start of October. He didn’t have a phone and was only allowed to spend a couple of weekends with his wife and children during his time away.
Bruchian returned to the pitch in the team’s loss at Upper Nazareth, with Katamon since drawing 0-0 with Hapoel Jerusalem and losing 1-0 to Ironi Nesher, leaving it in the relegation zone.
Katamon needs Bruchian at his best to retain its National League status, but it knowingly hurt its chances of survival by putting the player’s personal well-being ahead of anything else.
Katamon prides itself as being more than a soccer club. It was set up nine years ago by fans of Hapoel Jerusalem who were despaired by the dysfunctional ownership duo of Victor Yona and Yossi Sasi.
It has been a roller-coaster ride ever since. Katamon was relegated to the third division after a first-ever season in the National League, but bounced back immediately while continuing to make a significant impact off the field.
By standing by Bruchian and not hiding from the harsh reality of the circumstances, Katamon has set an example to every club in the country.
There were times when teams did all they could to keep their problems secret. Drug use, gambling addictions and domestic violence were all hidden from the public.
But understanding its responsibility to the fans, which is this case are also the owners of the club, Katamon knew it had to tell the entire truth.
Bruchian should also be proud of himself. While no player wants to be associated with gambling, the only way for him to overcome his problem was to confront it head on. He could have refused to gone to rehab and asked to leave the club.
Bruchian’s services would have likely been in demand at other National League clubs, and had he chosen to move on, his gambling issue would have remained a rumor. But he instead understood what was at stake and made a decision that will change his life for the better.
He is still only 31 years old, but it is clear that Bruchian will never live up to the expectations placed on him a decade ago. He should nevertheless be treated as a role model for young players, battling through all the difficulties to conquer his demons rather than succumb to firstname.lastname@example.org