Field work

Dan Romann is not your typical soccer player. There are countless stereotypes regarding professional athletes – soccer players in particular – and most of them are not complimentary. However, if there was ever an exception to the rule, Dan Romann is it.

Dan Romann 521 (photo credit: Emiel Ketelaar/
Dan Romann 521
(photo credit: Emiel Ketelaar/
Dan Romann is not your typical soccer player.
There are countless stereotypes regarding professional athletes – soccer players in particular – and most of them are not complimentary.
Sadly, they also prove to be truer than any sports fan would hope.
However, if there was ever an exception to the rule, Dan Romann is it. It is not just that he is on his way to completing a second degree in the philosophy of science and history at Tel Aviv University. Or that he is just as comfortable speaking about Nietzsche as he is about the difference between playing a 4-4-2 and a 4- 3-3 formation.
It is mainly the fact that he made a rare, and some might say reckless, decision when he chose to speak out earlier this year against the treatment of soccer players by Israeli club owners. In a column written for business daily Calcalist, Romann claimed that the current situation in Israeli soccer resembles a feudal economic system.
He argued that a soccer player in Israel is a vassal to his club like a peasant in medieval Europe who had to pay his lord a monthly rent and could not leave the land without the lord’s permission.
You may be thinking to yourself at this stage that considering the exorbitant amounts some soccer players earn for kicking a ball around a pitch they should have no right to complain.
But the 29-year-old Romann believes most people simply aren’t aware of the reality in which the majority of players have to live.
“You can be a slave and still make a good salary,” he said in an interview from the Netherlands, where he currently plays for second-division side SC Veendam. “That is important to understand. There are quite a few players who earn well and many who do okay, but you must also remember that even if a player earns more than average, his career only lasts 12-15 years at best. He loses his earning power after that. Even if you make $100,000 a year and you are sold and bought, the owner has all the power. It is a very problematic situation. Players are like a commodity.”
Romann is speaking from experience. He began his career at Hapoel Jerusalem in 1999, becoming one of the club’s icons until he left seven years later.
However, in order to be a key player for the Reds he had to relinquish his rights time and again, signing contracts that gave the club full control over his destiny.
“When I was 21 or 22 I told Victor Yona [who co-owned Hapoel Jerusalem with Yossi Sasi at the time] that I had no intention of signing a contract extension and that I wanted to leave when the season ended. He said ‘no way,’” Romann recalled. “I didn’t sign the contract and I wasn’t allowed to train with the team and was forced to run around the pitch. Had I refused to run I would have gotten a fine. Some players suffer this for months. It was important for me to play and I wanted clubs from the Premier League to see me and take me so I had no choice but to give in.”
Romann eventually garnered serious interest from a top-flight club, leaving to play for Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan in the 2006-07 season.
Jerusalem refused to release Romann on a loan deal unless the midfielder signed a contract extension and agreed to forgo money owed to him by the club.
Romann caved in for the chance to play in the Premier League, and did so once more the following season when Maccabi Tel Aviv came calling.
Maccabi paid $70,000 for a two-year loan deal, but Jerusalem never surrendered its hold on Romann.
In January 2009, after seeing little playing time in Tel Aviv, Hapoel Petah Tikva came to an arrangement with Maccabi to bring in Romann until the end of the season.
Despite already being paid by Tel Aviv for a two-season loan, Jerusalem’s Yona and Sasi inexplicably demanded to receive a further fee from Petah Tikva. Romann pleaded with the two to allow him to play for Petah Tikva, as they would only benefit in the future if he did well, rather than rotting away in the Tel Aviv reserves.
The owners wouldn’t yield and Romann remained in Tel Aviv until the completion of the season.
“The current situation in Israel is scandalous and there certainly needs to be more supervision on how an 18- year-old signs a contract,” said Romann, who spent loan spells at Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Ramat Gan in the last two seasons.
“There isn’t a single player who has played in Israel for more than five years that hasn’t had his wages systematically held back at one stage. There isn’t a single player who has played in Israel for 10 years that hasn’t had to forgo money he is owed at some stage, for example when he comes to sign a new contract.
“These things are treated as a given, but in my eyes they are outrageous.”
Romann, who has a French passport, joined Veendam after a short trial in the summer and has enjoyed every moment since.
“I didn’t always dream of playing in Europe, but in the last few years I felt I wanted to see a different kind of soccer,” he said. “In Israel soccer is like a matter of life and death. You don’t enjoy the game, and people talk to you about wars and killing yourself on the pitch and that takes its toll at some stage.
“The atmosphere is far saner here. Soccer is treated like a game and not like a matter of life and death. There is far more thoughtfulness invested in the game here. It is not regarded like a commando operation to release prisoners and in my eyes that is a far healthier way to view the game.”
Romann also has some suggestions of how to change the current situation in Israeli soccer.
"First of all, the players should strike. They need to take the power back into their hands,” he said. “They need to have a union. There should be new limitations on the way contracts are signed and conditions on how they end. We need to adopt the regulation from Europe that a player over the age of 23, who is out of contract, is free to move to another team, unlike in Israel where his club needs to be compensated.
“Most players don’t even know that they are being taken advantage of and being screwed over. They don’t even know that things could be any different. They have gotten used to this reality.”
Until the revolution sweeps Israeli soccer, Romann is relishing life in Europe, milking the experience for all it is worth.
And perhaps best of all, his year in the Netherlands will mean he will finally be free to determine his own destiny when next season comes around. The only way to get out of his contract with Hapoel Jerusalem was to spend a season in Europe. So next summer, at long last, the team owners will no longer have any say in his future, and that alone makes it all worthwhile.