Sinai Says: A pair of local stars finally begin to shine

Sinai Says A pair of lo

The stunning scoring display exhibited by both Shlomi Arbeitman and Itai Shechter since the start of the Premier League season has clearly demonstrated that there is no substitute for dedication and patience. The two young strikers have set the league alight in the first 10 matches of the campaign, with the 24-year-old Arbeitman scoring 10 goals for top-of-the-table Maccabi Haifa and the 22-year-old Shechter netting nine goals for second-placed Hapoel Tel Aviv. On the face of it, there seem to be few similarities between Arbeitman and Shechter. While the Haifa scorer nets most of his goals from close range, finishing off team moves with his head and feet, Hapoel's forward creates many of his goals by himself and is just as comfortable from the edge of the box and he is from five meters out. Despite their differences, Arbeitman and Shechter have taken a similar path to success, one which many teenage players would be wise to learn from. After a swift rise to fame, both players were quickly brought down to earth and came to the realization that for all their talent, they will achieve nothing without commitment and fortitude. Arbeitman grew up in the Betar Nes Tubrok youth club and made his league debut for Betar Jerusalem as a 17-year-old in 2003. He impressed from the first moment and it was not long before he was hailed as Israel's future striker. It seemed like nothing would stop Arbeitman's elevation to stardom when he scored a hat-trick in his debut for the Israel national team at the tender age of 18. However, his immaturity took its toll and midway through the 2004/05 season he left Betar for Hapoel Petah Tikva after clashing with the club's management. Arbeitman made just one appearance in a season-and-a-half at Petah Tikva before Haifa decided to take a chance on the petulant striker. His three campaigns at Kiryat Eliezer were riddled with ups and downs and although his scoring record (17 goals in 63 appearances) is not all that bad, it does not tell the true story of his time at the club. What Arbeitman's first three seasons at Haifa are remembered for, more than anything else, is his sending off in the crucial Champions League qualifier against Swede club Malmo FF. After coming on as a substitute, Arbeitman scored to give the team a 2-1 lead, a result which would have seen the team progress. However, his match ended prematurely when he was given a yellow card for taking his shirt off during the goal celebrations, before being sent off with a second yellow after needlessly handling the ball. It was just a little more than a year ago that Arbeitman's fledgling career hit rock-bottom. After a six-month loan at Hapoel Tel Aviv the reds declined the option to extend his contract and sent him back to Haifa. New Maccabi coach Elisha Levy was also not too keen on Arbeitman, but eventually decided to keep him around. Arbeitman finally understood that his career would be over unless he began to act as a true professional. His 28 appearances last season were an encouraging sign, but his hard work has only been truly rewarded this season. He has scored 10 league goals despite starting in only six matches, and has also scored three goals in four substitute appearances in the Champions League qualifiers. The Arbeitman of old would have failed to come to terms with his role from the bench, but he is a changed man now, just as Shechter is. Shechter made his breakthrough at Upper Nazareth and in 2006 was snatched up by Daniel Jammer's Maccabi Netanya. Just as in Arbeitman's case, Shechter's goal tally may have been relatively impressive (21 goals in 83 appearances), but it does not tell the whole truth of his three seasons at Netanya. While coach Reuven Atar nurtured him in his first two seasons, Lothar Matthaus clashed with Shechter time and again last campaign. Both probably share the blame for the row, but it was Shechter's career which was suffering. Netanya experienced a bitterly disappointing season and Shechter scored just seven goals in 30 matches. A new start was what he needed, and when Jammer decided to slash Netanya's budget ahead of this season and release its top players, Shechter got his wish. Hapoel came knocking and he took the chance with both hands. Much like Matthaus, Tel Aviv coach Eli Gutman has high demands of his players, but Shechter had learned his lesson from last season's sour experience. He kept his head down and mouth shut, and focused on his training. The results quickly followed and in all likelihood he will be making his living in Europe before too long. It may have taken a few seasons, but both Arbeitman and Shechter understood that their god-given gifts can only get them so far. There was never any question regarding their talent, but only when they finally recognized the need for complete devotion and determination their true potential shone through.