Sinai Says: Natcho’s story a lesson in resiliency

Born and raised in Kfar Kama, one of only two Circassian villages in Israel, Bibras Natcho has carried the hopes of an entire community.

bibras natcho 311 (photo credit: AP)
bibras natcho 311
(photo credit: AP)
In a day and age when the biggest problem most soccer players have to deal with is deciding which model to date, Bibras Natcho has experienced a life of trials and tribulations filled with more tragedy than any 22-year-old deserves.
Born and raised in the humble surroundings of Kfar Kama in the lower Galilee, one of only two Circassian villages in Israel, Natcho has carried the hopes of an entire community for over a decade, ever since his talent was spotted by Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Around 4,000 Circassians live in Israel, and like the Druze they enjoy a status aparte and serve in the IDF. The Circassians are Sunni Muslims, but are not Arabs and traditionally separate between their religion and nationality.
At the age of 12 Natcho left home to join Hapoel’s youth academy in Mikve Israel, hoping that the unique boarding school in Holon would help him realize his dream of becoming a professional player.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan for Natcho, who rapidly scaled the ranks as one of the stars on Hapoel’s youth side before making his debut for the senior team in November 2006 as an 18-year-old.
However, on the cusp of fulfilling his soccer dreams, Natcho’s world came crashing down in April 2008.
While jogging in a park in Rishon Lezion, Natcho’s father, Acram, collapsed and died at the age of 49, robbing Bibras of his biggest supporter.
This wasn’t Natcho’s first encounter with tragedy.
Three-and-a-half years earlier, Nili Natcho, a member of the Israel women’s national basketball team, and her sister Diana, cousins of Bibras, died in a fatal car accident in the North, deaths that rocked the entire Circassian community.
Despite the disasters, Natcho continued to work hard on his game and maintained the focus that has made him the favorite of practically every coach he has ever trained under.
Soccer quite simply became a refuge from all the troubles of the real world.
Hapoel coach Eli Gutman, who became especially close to Natcho, handed the midfielder a place in the starting lineup two seasons ago, turning Bibras into one of the stars of the up-and-coming team.
However, just when Natcho’s life finally seemed to be getting back on track another catastrophe struck.
His uncle, Avram, father of Nili and Diana, died from a massive heart attack less than a year after his brother. Avram was always close to Bibras and was especially important to the midfielder following his Acram’s death.
Nevertheless, Natcho tried to get back to his routine as soon as he could and, after recovering from a foot injury, was slotted right back into Tel Aviv’s starting 11.
This season, Natcho has been one of the league’s most improved players, orchestrating Hapoel’s play from the midfield. Tel Aviv’s superb form in local and European competition quickly attracted the attention of scouts from across the world, and Natcho soon became a sought after commodity, especially with his contract at the Israeli club due to run out at the end of the season.
Russian champion Rubin Kazan established itself as the most serious suitor for Natcho’s services and finally secured his signature on Monday, handing him a four-year contract which will earn him a reported 500,000 euros a year.
Tel Aviv was desperate to hold on to Natcho, but understood that there is no point in denying him a contract worth more than five times what he was earning at Hapoel, especially with Kazan offering the club a tidy sum of 650,000 euros just four months before he was set to become a free agent.
Natcho’s move to Russia capped a dream week for the player after heearned his first Israel cap in last Wednesday’s 2-0 victory in Romania.
Fate has not been kind to Natcho, but at least after so much heartache he is finally reaping the rewards he so deserves.
His dexterity and demeanor both on and off the field have more thanearned him his current standing as one of the future stars of Israelisoccer and it would come as no surprise if Kazan proves to be just astepping stone before he moves on to bigger and greater things.
After representing his community with honor for so many years, Natchoseems destined to become the pride of his country as well. Israel couldnot wish for a better ambassador.