Sinai Says: The journeyman who finally broke through

This Saturday Lala will celebrate his 27th birthday, a grand old age to be making your first mark on the soccer scene.

allon sinai Olympics 88 (photo credit: )
allon sinai Olympics 88
(photo credit: )
The latest chapter in the Cinderella story that is the career of Maharan Lala will be written next week, during four of the most important days of Hapoel Tel Aviv's season. Just a single point behind Maccabi Haifa in the Premier League standings, Hapoel plays arch-rival Maccabi Tel Aviv in the league derby on Monday and three days later hosts Haifa in the last 16 of the State Cup. With two-thirds of the season already past, Lala is undoubtedly the top candidate for the Premier League's breakthrough player of the season, coming from nowhere in Israeli soccer terms to play an integral part in Hapoel's successful campaign so far. Breakthrough seasons tend to come about when a player is still in his teens or at the very latest when he's in his early 20s. Ask most soccer fans and they will likely tell you that Lala fits that mold. However, this Saturday Lala will celebrate his 27th birthday, a grand old age to be making your first mark on the soccer scene. Lala wandered in the wilderness of Israel's lower leagues for nearly a decade, but never stopped believing in his ability to become an established professional , a dream which he only finally realized last season. The Druse forward grew up in Isifiya in the Carmel and began his career in the Hapoel Haifa youth team. During his full army service as a logistics sergeant in the air force, Lala played for fourth division Maccabi Sha'arayim and was eventually picked up by third division Hapoel Herzliya after some impressive showings. After one season at Herzliya, Lala returned to National League side Hapoel Haifa, being picked out of some 200 players in club tryouts by then-coach Ran Ben-Shimon. Lala, however, never made any real impression at Kiryat Eliezer, and after one season was back in the third division, playing for Bnei Tamra. In the middle of the 2006/07 season and at the age of 25 Lala was released by Tamra, but he continued to hope his day would come and it did at Ahi Nazareth of the National League. After a difficult first six months, Lala blossomed at the club last season, playing regularly and scoring 10 league goals. Hapoel coach Eli Gutman was convinced to give him a chance in preseason training, and after being extremely impressed with his movement and work ethic gave him a contract at the club. Gutman soon realized that Lala's understanding of the game makes him a perfect strike partner for the prolific Samuel Yeboah and in Hapoel's last 11 league games Lala has started each and every time. He has developed the knack of scoring goals in the team's most important matches, finding the back of the net against Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Betar Jerusalem this season. Lala is all but guaranteed of being in Gutman's lineup against Maccabi Tel Aviv and Haifa next week, and this time no one will be surprised if his name appears on the score sheet. His rise to fame is perhaps best summed up by famous American inventor Thomas Edison's following words. "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."