Avi Cohen Funeral 311.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
As great a soccer player as Avi Cohen was, he was even more impressive as a
In a day and age in which sporting stardom has reached
unimaginable heights, Cohen was forever down to earth.
and classy, Cohen made sure to be around to lend a helping hand to anyone who
needed one, whether or not he was asked.
Like many sports journalists in
Israel, I too had the honor to speak to Cohen on several occasions. No one could
wish for a better interviewee.
While most athletic stars become more and
more inaccessible, Cohen understood his place in Israeli soccer history and
treated it as a privilege rather than a burden.
But for those who never
met Cohen, he will first and foremost be remembered as the pioneer who set the
foundations for local soccer’s progress to the European stage.
31 years have passed since his transfer from Maccabi Tel Aviv to Liverpool, but
to this day, it remains the most astounding of moves by an Israeli
For a blue-and-white player to reach a club of the stature of
Liverpool is nothing short of extraordinary. But in 1979 it was simply beyond
the realm of reality.
In those days Liverpool was on a different planet
in soccer terms. Not only was it the greatest club in the world at the time, but
it also only signed foreign players on the rarest of occasions.
soccer was still 13 years away from participating in European competitions,
having to face Asian opponents in its attempt to qualify for the 1974 and 1978
Local players were of nearly no interest to continental
clubs, but Cohen broke through these boundaries and set the allimportant
As staggering as his departure for Merseyside was, it was no
Liverpool knew exactly why it was signing its first foreign
player in 24 years.
A week of training under the watchful eye of Bob
Paisley was all the great manager needed before deciding to make Cohen the first
Israeli to play in the English top flight.
Cohen’s athletic ability
combined with his rare understanding of the game saw him make 24 appearances
over two seasons in what was the best team of its time.
He is best
remembered at Anfield for scoring a famous goal in the 1979/80 title clincher
against Aston Villa, with the defender also netting an own goal in the 4-1
Three decades have gone by and even though Liverpool only
experienced two years of his leadership and character, Cohen was never
A testament to this was seen last night when a period of
applause was observed ahead of the team’s Premier League match with
Wolverhampton Wanderers, with both sets of players also wearing black armbands
to mark the sad news.
Locally, Cohen will always be associated with
Maccabi Tel Aviv, at which he made 337 appearances, becoming one of the greatest
symbols of the club while leading it to the league and cup double in 1976/77 as
well as the 1978/79 championship.
After retiring from active play in
1990, Cohen tried his luck in coaching.
But the harsh, backstabbing world
of managing was not for him, after all, he only always wanted to do good by
In 2005, he was chosen as the head of Israel’s soccer Players
Association, a job far more fitting of his nature as it required him to help
players stand up for their rights in the difficult environment of local
All of this came to an end last Monday when he was gravely
injured in a motorbike accident in Ramat Gan.
His family and loved ones
never lost hope, but ultimately he succumbed to his wounds early Wednesday
morning, being laid to rest at the age of 54 in the late afternoon at Ramat
A tragic and unnecessary accident robbed Israeli
sports of one of its greatest heroes, a true gentleman both on and off the
Avileh, you will be sorely missed.