The Last Word: Just how good can Ben Sahar be?

Over the past week the 17-year-old has gone from complete unknown to "super sub," having made three appearances for Chelsea's first team.

By JEREMY LAST
January 15, 2007 05:40
3 minute read.
The Last Word: Just how good can Ben Sahar be?

jeremy last 88. (photo credit: )

 
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In the past there have been some very good Israeli soccer players who have made an impact abroad. Players like Ronnie Rosenthal, who briefly lit up what was then the English first division at Liverpool, including a fantastic hat trick on his debut against Charlton in 1990, and then went on to play for Spurs. There was Eyal Berkovic, who showed touches of brilliance while playing for Southampton, West Ham, Celtic and Manchester City, between falling foul of his typical Israeli attitude problem. And Haim Revivo, who turned on the style for Celta Vigo in the Spanish Primera Liga, as well as Fenerbace and Galatasaray in Turkey. And, of course, current stars Yossi Benayoun at West Ham, who scored two wonderful goals on Saturday, but had not scored at all this season until then, and Tal Ben-Haim, who has been linked in a move from Bolton to Chelsea. But however high-quality these players are, or were, none of them became world-beaters. None of them won a European trophy (only former Betar Jerusalem legend Eli Ohana has managed that), or made such a stir that they are known worldwide. So when 16-year-old Ben Sahar left Hapoel Tel Aviv to sign for the Chelsea youth team last May, there were murmurs of excitement. Immediately the questions started - Could this be the new Israeli superstar? Could Sahar become a great player who could outshine Benayoun, Revivo, Berkovic or Rosenthal? It all seemed a little over the top. Sahar may have become the newest addition to Roman Abramovich's international empire, but he was only a kid. He had hardly played for the Hapoel first team, so he wasn't likely to make an appearance alongside Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba or Andriy Shevchenko in the Chelsea first team any time soon. How wrong the doubters have been proved. Over the past week, Sahar, now 17, has gone from complete unknown to "super sub," having made three appearances for Chelsea's first team. Last Saturday was his first big chance. Sahar came on as a sub for Soloman Kalou in Chelsea's FA Cup win over Macclesfield with 15 minutes to go. He then played the last 20 minutes of the League Cup tie with Wycombe Wanderers on Wednesday, followed by his Premiership debut eight minutes before the end of the blues' 4-0 drubbing of Wigan Athletic on Saturday. Talk about a meteoric rise. But although the signs are all there for Sahar to make a significant impact on the Chelsea set-up and become an important member of the English champions' squad, the question has to be asked: Are we getting ahead of ourselves here? True, Sahar scored a quality goal for the Israeli under-21 team against France in Paris in October, but apart from that what have we seen of him? The first two games he appeared in for Chelsea, against Macclesfield and Wigan, weren't on TV here. On Saturday, Israeli viewers got a look at the youngster in his eight minutes of glory at Stamford Bridge. And to be honest, he didn't do much, apart from miss a sitter from inside the six-meter box. Maybe we are judging him too quickly, but if a player so young is to be included in the first team of the richest club in the country, then either he possesses something amazing, some incredible talent, or Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has a different agenda. It is important to note the dispute that has been brewing between Mourinho and the Chelsea management over the past few weeks. In a nutshell, Mourinho wants to sign new players but Abramovich is reportedly keeping the purse strings tightly shut. In the official club program on sale at the Bridge on Saturday Mourinho made his point. "Are you ready to enjoy us playing with 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds and still be chasing prizes?" he asked the club's supporters. Perhaps Saha will continue to tunnel his way into the Chelsea squad. But don't be surprised if he is just a flash in the pan and is soon dropped in favor of the newest, most expensive striker around. jeremylast@yahoo.com

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