What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Israeli export?
Hi-Tech? Perhaps citrus fruit? Rudeness? Whatever it is, it’s unlikely to be
But amazingly, and somewhat inexplicably, Israeli players
have become a prime commodity in European leagues this summer.
Israelis will be playing across the continent this season, an all-time record.
For the first time ever, Israel will have representatives in each of the big
five European leagues – England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France.
wasn’t that long ago that playing abroad was the ultimate sign of success for an
Only the cream of the crop got a chance in Europe and the
hype surrounding their careers turned them into household names.
there is no point in trying to compare Ronny Rosenthal and Eli Ohana with the
likes of youngsters Liroy Zhairi and Dor Malul.
All four may have begun
their continental careers in Belgium, but while Rosenthal and Ohana will forever
be remembered as two of the greatest Israeli players of all time, Zhairi (KV
Mechelen) and Malul (Beerschot AC) could go their entire careers without even
making a single appearance for the national team.
However, it is because
the likes of Zhairi and Malul are finding teams in Europe that the current trend
is so fascinating.
There is no one particular reason why Israeli players
have all of the sudden become so attractive. But there are several explanations
that can help rationalize the inflation in local soccer exports this
First of all, you have to take into account the growing influence
of Israeli agents in Europe.
While the likes of Pini Zahavi and Ronen and
Gilad Katzav have long held a strong and often legendary reputation, in recent
years dozens of new agents have flooded the market.
While a country with
the soccer heritage of Portugal has only 64 registered agents, Israel has
However, as good as an agent is, he is not an alchemist.
players have to come up with the goods when given their chance, and it is
because the likes of Elyaniv Barda (KRC Genk) and Maor Melikson (Wisla Krakow)
have made such a strong and quick impression that their countrymen have received
an opportunity to ply their trade on the continent.
By scoring 16 league
goals in his first season at Genk in 2007/08, Barda changed the course of the
career of several of his countrymen, with six Israelis currently playing in the
Belgian top flight, including Lior Rafaelov, who was purchased from Maccabi
Haifa by Club Brugge for some 2.5 million euro in June.
joined Krakow in January, but he has been such a resounding success that three
more Israelis have since followed in his footsteps, including Dudu Biton, who is
now his teammate.
The recent appearances of Israeli clubs in the group
stage of the Champions League have also had a strong effect on the appeal of
Eran Zahavi (Palermo), Danny Bondarv (Volga Nizhny
Novgorod), Gili Vermut (Kaiserslautern), Itai Shechter (Kaiserslautern) and Ben
Sahar (AJ Auxerre) were all key members of the Hapoel Tel Aviv squad which
played in European soccer’s premier competition last season and have all moved
on to greener pastures this summer.
Rafaelov, Dekel Keinan (Cardiff
City), Biram Kiyal (Celtic) and Shlomi Arbeitman (KAA Gent) are also all playing
on the continent after starring in Haifa’s Champions League campaign in
Despite the recent influx, there are still only very few
Israelis playing at the very highest level, with Yossi Benayoun (Chelsea) still
standing head-and-shoulders above the rest of the pack.
Israelis than ever now have the chance to break through in Europe, and should at
least several of them succeed, local soccer will never be the same.
seem to be two main immediate implications.
The Israeli Premier League
will surely suffer from losing so much talent, but the places vacated on lineups
will also allow more young players to prove their worth.
team will also likely benefit from having more players with European experience,
with much of the blue-and-white squad to profit from the continent’s superior
infrastructure and training schemes.
One thing is for sure,
The way the Israelis play in Europe this season will have long
lasting repercussions on the future of local soccer, making the coming months
especially intriguing for everyone involved in the sport – particularly for
those players hoping to ride the current fad and realize their dreams of being
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