Saluting a true ambassador of sport over two decades

Saluting a true ambassad

harazi 88 (photo credit: )
harazi 88
(photo credit: )
At first glance, it is hard to see what made Alon Harazi such a great player. At 1.79-meters and 76 kilograms, he is quite literally the average man. He was always one of the faster players in the Israeli Premier League, but had blazing speed been his only asset, he would have been a sprinter and not a soccer player. The 38-year-old Harazi, who retired after Maccabi Haifa's Champions League match against Bordeaux on Tuesday, may not have possessed Eyal Berkovic's talents or Ronny Rosenthal's physical attributes, but he forged an extraordinary career just the same thanks to something no less important. Harazi was simply the consummate professional. In an age where players achieve stardom with annoying ease, Harazi was a constant reminder of what can be accomplished with sheer desire and determination. During 20 seasons in the top flight, 19 with Haifa and one with Betar Jerusalem, Harazi amassed a record nine league title, three State Cups and five Toto Cups. He entered this season with the most appearances ever in the Premier League and ends his career having played in 527 league games. He has also made 66 appearances in European competitions, more than any other Israeli player. Harazi twice reached the Champions League group stage and also helped Haifa to the quarterfinals of the European Cup Winners Cup and to the last 16 of the UEFA Cup. In addition, he has earned 89 caps for the Israel national team during a remarkable 14-year period, second only to Arik Benado with 94. However, even the endless list of achievements fails to capture what Harazi was all about. For Harazi may have rarely been the best player on the pitch, but he was always the truest gentleman, no matter who else was playing. It is no coincidence that throughout his long career Harazi played every position on the field. This is not only a testament to his versatility, but also a demonstration of his complete devotion to the team. The team always came before the individual for Harazi and whether the coach asked him to play at left-back or as a lone striker, he was always more than happy to give his best so that the side can achieve its goals. "I hope I will be remembered as a human being and not just as a good player," Harazi said in his usual soft-spoken fashion after playing his final league match on Saturday. "I have tried not to change as a person throughout my career and it means everything to me if people love me for who I truly am." While the retirement of a remarkable player is always an emotional farewell, Haifa fans can at least take consolation in the knowledge that Harazi is going to be the man in charge of raising the team's future stars. In a typical stroke of genius, Haifa owner and chairman Jacob Shahar named Harazi as the club's chief scout and has put him in charge of setting up a scouting department other Israeli clubs have refrained from establishing due to a lack of financing and forward thinking. It is sad to think that we will no longer see Harazi race up and down the flank as he has been doing for the past 20 years. However, the fact that he remains in the sport and will help nurture Israel's young talents for many years to come is comfort enough for me.