(photo credit: MACCABI HAIFA WEBSITE)
Yossi Benayoun admitted on Wednesday that he never intended to end his career in Israel and wouldn’t guarantee he would lead Maccabi Haifa to a title next season after being unveiled in a press conference at the new Sammy Ofer Stadium.
The 34-year-old midfielder came to an agreement to return to Haifa last month after spending the past 12 years in Europe. Benayoun was a fan favorite while playing for Haifa between 1998 and 2002, leading the club to two straight Premier League championships before leaving for Racing Santander of the Spanish league.
He moved on to the English Premier League and played at West Ham United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal, with his last stop being at QPR, helping the London club to gain promotion to the top flight last season.
He joined Haifa despite initially announcing that he failed to reach an agreement with the club and on Wednesday he finally met the media at the Ofer Stadium together with new Serbian coach Aleksandar Stanojevic.
“I’m happy and excited to be here,” said Benayoun.
“This is the right time for me to come back to Israel and Maccabi Haifa, which is my home. So far, I have enjoyed every moment and if we continue like this and remain united we will succeed.”
Benayoun said he was surprised by the welcome he received from the club’s fans and claimed he is delighted to be ending his career in Israel, despite previously having stated that he wouldn’t do so.
“I’m not going to make any brash statements about us winning titles, but I do promise to give my all both on and off the pitch,” he said. “I didn’t see myself returning to retire in Israel because of the experience of previous players who did so. However, I was always jealous of players who returned to their homeland to end their careers and now I have gotten my chance.”
Benayoun will be the team’s new captain, replacing Yaniv Katan, who announced his retirement last month. The 33-year-old, who played for Haifa throughout his career apart from a six-month stint with West Ham United in 2006, was hoping to continue at the club, but after understanding that he doesn’t feature in the coach’s plans he chose to hang up his boots.
“What happened in the past needs to remain in the past and I decided I wanted to start afresh,” said Stanojevic.
“It is easy to talk about winning the championship, but we must take one step at a time.”