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60 Sporting Heroes for 60 Years: No.10 Eyal Berkovic
Jeremy Last
04/28/2008
Today marks a momentous moment in the countdown of the top 60 greatest sporting heroes in the history of the State of Israel, the beginning of the top 10. These sports stars are the creme de la creme, the best of the best. While others impressed, these 10 shone and made an indelible impact on both the Israeli sporting consciousness and the international sporting scene. Others were good, these were the greatest. We begin with the second best soccer player this country has ever produced. When Eyal Berkovic was a boy growing up in the northern town of Nahariya he dreamt of becoming a world-renowned soccer star. How that dream came true. Berkovic, like so many of Israel's other top soccer players, found his initial fame at Maccabi Haifa. Playing alongside stars like Reuven Atar and Ronny Rosenthal he won the Israeli league title twice and the State Cup three times including a double in 1991. In the summer of 1996, seven years after making his debut for the Greens, Berkovic stepped his career up a level with a move to English Premier League side Southampton. The year spent at The Dell under the managership of Graeme Souness established the Israeli as one of the top attacking midfielders in the league, and began the second half of his career which included spells at five English clubs as well as Scottish champs Celtic. After impressing at Southampton, where he scored two in a classic 6-3 win over Manchester United, Berkovic moved to West Ham, a club which would later welcome fellow Israeli Yossi Benayoun. It wasn't that he wasn't a success at Upton Park, but an infamous training ground altercation with Welshman John Hartson in 1999 exposed the weakness of Berkovic's nature and soon the Israeli had moved north of the border to join John Barnes's Celtic. Two years later he returned to England to play for Blackburn Rovers for a very short period of time, then Manchester City and finally Portsmouth. In all Berkovic scored 35 top flight goals in the UK and delighted fans at each of the teams he played for. His swansong came when he moved back to Israel, attempted to play for Haifa again before being rejected and spending a less than successful season at Maccabi Tel Aviv. Since retiring he gave management a go at Maccabi Netanya for a few summer months in 2006 before falling out with owner Daniel Jammer despite securing the services of a number of players including former Tel Aviv goalkeeper Liran Shtrauber. The bizarre situation epitomized the enigmatic character that Berkovic was and always will be. Tomorrow: Israel's brightest hope for the next decade
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