Sinai Says: Benayoun’s move to QPR a bittersweet moment for Israeli soccer

No doubt, a return to Israel for one final campaign would have been somewhat of a gamble.

By
December 11, 2013 06:42
Yossi Benayoun.

Yossi Benayoun 370. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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What a fairytale ending it could have been.

Yossi Benayoun returning to Hapoel Beersheba, the club at which he began his career, and helping the team to its first championship since 1976 before announcing his retirement.

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Or perhaps, joining Maccabi Haifa, the final Israeli club at which he played before embarking abroad, and leading the Greens to a triumphant season.

Those scenarios are set to remain unrealized dreams.

Benayoun promised long ago that he would never play again for an Israeli club and he will likely end his career with a whimper instead of what could have been an emotional bang after officially joining London club QPR on Tuesday.

After more than five months without a team, the 33-year-old midfielder signed with the English Championship side until the end of the season, choosing to play a peripheral role for a club in the English second division – albeit one fighting for Premiership promotion – rather than take on one final challenge in Israel.

After seeing how the careers of the likes of Eyal Berkovic and Haim Revivo ended on a sour note when they returned home for their final season, Benayoun had no interest in risking a similar swansong.



No doubt, a return to Israel for one final campaign would have been somewhat of a gamble.

It may have backfired the way it did in the cases of Berkovic and Revivo, but Benayoun is not the ostentatious Berkovic or divisive Revivo.

They will forever be remembered as two of the greatest players in Israel history, but they were always, and continue to be, controversial figures.

Benayoun, on the other hand, has experienced a love affair with the country and its soccer fans ever since he burst onto the scene in his early teens.

Unlike so many others, he not only lived up to the exceptionally high expectations, but actually exceeded them.

Benayoun gave the southern town of Dimona, where he was born and raised, another claim to fame besides its neighboring nuclear reactor and high unemployment rate.

A farewell season in Israel would have made every one of his team’s matches a festive event for both the home and away fans.

However, he has adamantly rejected such notion and seems to have ended any chance of it ever coming to fruition by joining QPR.

Benayoun spent several weeks training with Maccabi Haifa during the summer as he tried to keep in shape.

He even admitted that had Haifa pressured him to join the club, he may have yielded. Ultimately, he decided to stop training with the team as he felt that the longer he practiced with the squad, the bigger the chance he would end up signing.

Benayoun has been a free agent since his three-year deal with Chelsea expired on the last day of June.

Injuries limited Benayoun to 19 appearances last season in England. He spent the second-half of the campaign at Chelsea after a four-month loan spell at West Ham United.

Benayoun, who joined Chelsea after three successful seasons at Liverpool and also experienced a season-long loan spell at Arsenal in 2011/12, didn’t receive the lucrative offer he was hoping for in the summer, turning down approaches from Spain, France and England.

Benayoun said last month that he would like to play in Spain and was on the verge of signing a one-and-a-half year contract with Malaga, before the deal fell through.

He had no choice but to reevaluate his situation once more, and after finally receiving his work permit, he officially became a QPR player on Tuesday.

“I am delighted everything is done and am very pleased to join QPR,” he told the club’s website. “I have been training here for two weeks and now I can’t wait to get involved and help the team.”

QPR is currently in second place in the Championship, tied on 39 points with league-leader Burnley after 19 matches.

The club from White City is guided by Harry Redknapp, who revealed on Tuesday that he had attempted to sign Benayoun in the past.

“Yossi is a good footballer, a top-class player,” said Redknapp. “He’s got great ability and is someone I have always liked. I actually tried to take him to Tottenham at one time. I think he will be a fantastic addition to the squad.”

Benayoun is looking forward to playing for Redknapp.

“The manager was a very big factor for me,” he said. “He showed me from the beginning that he really wanted me, and he is someone I have always wanted to play for so I am very happy.

“I have played in the Premier League for the last eight years and I enjoy England very much. The Championship is also a great league and I am looking forward to playing in it and helping QPR build on a great start to the season.”

Benayoun hasn’t played since equalling Arik Benado’s Israel national team all-time record of 94 appearances when coming on as a substitute in the blue-and-white’s 2-0 loss to Ukraine in mid-August.

The former captain eventually lost his place on the Israel squad due to his lack of playing time, but is still hoping to return to the national team and help it qualify for Euro 2016.

“Every player’s dream is to retire in his country,” Benayoun said in an interview last month. “But you must take Israel out of that equation. Players from all around the world are treated like kings when they return for a final season, but in Israel that unfortunately doesn’t happen.”

It is hard to argue with Benayoun’s fear of being booed and receiving abuse from thugs in the stands who weren’t even born when he began his illustrious career.

However, 99.9 percent of those in the stadiums would have cherished every moment of seeing him in action one last time.

They are unlikely to get that chance now, an opportunity which could have also been so rewarding for Benayoun and that he may one day regret not seizing.

allon@jpost.com

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