A quick glance at the Premier League’s top scorers so far this season reveals two
names you would never expect to see.
This may sound overly harsh, but
Ahmed Saba and Maharan Radi were supposed to be no more than mediocre players,
the kind which rarely go noticed and experience a largely uneventful
That was indeed the case until this season, when Saba and Radi
broke out of the stereotype and have taken the reins at their respective clubs,
Maccabi Netanya and Bnei Sakhnin.
At 31, Saba’s career should be winding
down to its inevitable end.
However, the striker is only now finally
making his long overdue breakthrough, having scored a league-leading seven goals
in the first nine matches of the season.
In fact, Saba has netted all
seven of his goals in Netanya’s last six games, having missed two of the team’s
first three matches through injury before coming on as a substitute to score two
goals in the last four minutes of the 2-1 win over Bnei Yehuda.
been out of the starting line-up since and was brimming with confidence after
Saturday’s 2-1 win over Hapoel Beersheba took Netanya to third place in the
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“We deserve to be placed among the top five,” he said. “We
believe we can go far and we will continue to work hard to maintain this
I’m really not surprised by our position. We are capable of
beating any team and I just hope that we can remain with our feet on the
Nothing went according to plan in Saba’s career and he very
nearly never got his chance in the top-flight.
After 12 seasons in the
lower divisions at Hapoel Majd el-Kurum, Hapoel Acre and Hapoel Bnei Lod, Saba
finally got the opportunity he was waiting for when an almost bankrupt Netanya,
looking for bargain buys, decided to bring him aboard in January 2009.
only finally made his Premier League debut at the age of 29 at the start of the
2009/10 campaign, but he quickly established his place as a key member of the
team, ending the season as its top scorer with nine league goals.
Majd el-Kurum native, who still lives in the town with his wife and two
children, quite amazingly started every one of Netanya’s 35 league matches last
season, once more finishing as its top scorer, this time with 12
He is already well on the way to significantly improving that
tally this season, and his contribution to the team both on and off the field
was recognized when coach Reuven Atar decided to name him as the captain
following Orel Dgani’s departure for Maccabi Haifa in August.
four wins in its current six-match unbeaten streak, Netanya is just two points
behind league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv and its fans have secretly begun dreaming
once more of a first championship since 1983.
Radi’s Bnei Sakhnin is just
two points behind Netanya, and that is only because it was deducted those points
by the Israel Football Association disciplinary court which found it guilty of
paying Nastja Ceh under the table last season.
Radi has scored six league
goals to date, but what makes his contribution so impressive is the fact that he
has found the back of the net so many times from his position in the center of
the field as Sakhnin’s playmaker.
While Saba’s talent was a well-kept
secret until two years ago, Radi’s potential was there for every one to see in
the past decade.
The midfielder came through Maccabi Tel Aviv’s youth
system and after several seasons in the lower divisions, got his chance in the
top-flight at Maccabi Herzliya, playing for the club between 2006 and
Two excellent years at Bnei Yehuda followed, before the Sulam
village native and resident decided to return closer to home and play for Hapoel
Acre last season.
The 29-year-old shined yet again, and this past summer
Hapoel Tel Aviv came knocking. However, after Yossi Abuksis was replaced as
coach by Dror Kashtan before even guiding Hapoel in a single match, Sakhnin
stepped in and snapped up what has already become one of the best signings made
in Israel this year.
The religious Radi, who makes sure to perform
Islam’s five daily prayers, didn’t score in Sakhnin’s 3- 0 victory over Betar
Jerusalem on Monday, but he provided the assist for the third goal and is still
dreaming of playing in Europe one day.
“I can’t explain why I haven’t
found my place in a big team in Israel, but for me Sakhnin is just as big as any
other team and I will always give my all for any team I play for,” he said. “In
Israel you are told you are over the hill at 28, but things are different
abroad. I’m just as good as some of the Israeli players currently playing in
Europe and I know I can make it there.”
Radi is unlikely to ever get his
chance on the continent and Saba will probably never get to play for a bigger
club than Netanya.
However, thanks to their sensational starts to the
season, both are finally getting the recognition they deserve, at last living
the dream of all those so-called average players who are so easily
Follow Allon Sinai on Twitter: @AllonSinai
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