Eran Levy will forever remain one of the greatest “what ifs” of Israeli soccer.
The 32-year-old Maccabi Netanya midfielder is arguably the most exciting player in the Premier League, even though he is nowhere near to fulfilling his full potential.
This rare combination is made possible by the extraordinary talent Levy possesses. He has one very simple, yet remarkable skill. Levy’s control of the ball with his left foot is not only unmatched in Israel, but is comparable to some of the best in the world.
Levy leads the league with nine assists so far this season, doing so in spectacular fashion. Take his second assist in last month’s 2-1 win over Ironi Kiryat Shmona. Levy created both of his team’s goals scored by Diya Saba, the second of which came after he picked out the striker with a 75-meter goal kick, a feat requiring both the audacity and foresight few players have been blessed with.
Levy takes particular joy in threading the ball to his teammates when the task seems all but impossible and his powerful shots from distance are the scourge of the league’s goalkeepers.
He leads the league with 118 threats toward the goal (including 55 on target) – that’s 25 more than Saba, the league’s leading scorer with 18 goals so far this season, with Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s Shoval Gozlan in third place with a mere 75 threats.
According to the advanced statistics provided by the Premier League, Levy has also completed more key passes (63) than any other player in the league, with Hapoel Beersheba’s Maor Melikson in second place.
Any way you look at it, Levy is experiencing a wonderful season, possibly the best of his career, leading Netanya to the top-six championship playoffs after only gaining promotion last season.
So how is it that only now, 16 years after he made his senior debut at Maccabi Haifa, Levy’s ability has finally been recognized for the first time with a callup to the Israel national team?
That goes back to the fact that Levy is as troubled as he is gifted.
There have been two main things that have prevented Levy from realizing his potential to the full and they are no secret.
His lack of composure and his hefty physique have been the subject of sports talk-shows for over a decade. Levy is not what one would consider fat or obese, but you are unlikely to find a stockier player in the top flight.
However, despite not being the leanest player around, Levy is one of the few players who by himself is worth the price of a ticket.
The Or Akiva native was earmarked as a future star as a teenager at Maccabi Haifa, making his debut for the senior side as a 17-year-old in the 2002/03 season.
While there was never any doubt regarding his God-given prowess, it also quickly became apparent that he was going to struggle to become a star player if he didn’t start behaving in the manner required by a professional.
The temperamental midfielder left Haifa in 2005 in his search of more playing time, and his playing career looked to be in dire straits in the summer of 2007 when he joined the beach soccer league looking to make ends meet.
His superb performances on the sand convinced Hapoel Haifa to give him another chance and he found a home at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
Nevertheless, his conduct both on and off the field saw him clash with coach Shlomi Dora time and again, with Levy leaving Haifa for short stints at Hapoel Ashkelon and Hapoel Beersheba before ultimately signing with Beitar Jerusalem on the last day of January 2012. Levy blossomed at Beitar despite clashing with coach Eli Cohen and his staff.
There were numerous incidents, including the one in which Levy purposefully trudged through a 3,000- meter run after being told to train despite complaining that he was suffering from a blister on his foot. Levy only finally completed the course after nearly 20 minutes, excusing himself during the run for a short toilet break.
It is hardly surprising he didn’t have his contract renewed following the 2012/13 campaign, but that ended up to be a blessing in disguise.
Joining Maccabi Netanya of the National League initially seemed like the beginning of the end to his career.
However, Levy would dominate the second division, leading Netanya to promotion and on the way earning himself an unwanted reputation as someone who is better fitted for the National League than the top flight.
He proved that couldn’t be further from the truth with 11 goals in 31 appearances the following season.
His career would be derailed once more in the summer of 2015 when he tore knee ligaments, which ultimately saw him miss the entire 2015/16 campaign, at the end of which Netanya was relegated to the second division.
Levy bounced back with another impressive campaign in the National League, once more finishing with double digits in goals and assists to guide Netanya to promotion.
He is close to repeating that feat in the Premier League this season, having scored seven goals so far to go with his league-leading assist tally.
It is impossible to know what Levy might have achieved had his head already been in the right place 15 years ago. He is still far from the fittest player in the league, but his moments of brilliance are what decide matches.
Levy’s genius is set to finally be recognized with an international cap when Israel faces Romania in a friendly in Netanya on Saturday. While he may never win a championship, he could play a role in deciding where this season’s title ends up, with Netanya’s results against the top sides to potentially determine the outcome of the tight race.
Levy has likely missed his chance to become a star player for one of Israel’s big clubs and due to his age will probably also not feature in the plans of the new national team coach when he is named later this year.
He is, however, finally receiving the recognition he deserves as a player of unrivaled artistry in Israel, someone with the rare gift of being able to make thousands of people gasp all at once with awe and appreciation.