Sinai Says: The long road back to soccer relevance for Tamir Cohen

Cohen looks to be finally back on track to returning to being the player he once was.

Tamir Cohen 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Tamir Cohen 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
It isn’t difficult to pinpoint the exact moment Tamir Cohen’s career began to unravel.
On December 20, 2010, one of Israel’s all-time greatest players and Tamir’s father, Avi, was struck by a car while riding his motorbike in Ramat Gan.
Nine days after the accident, his death was announced, shattering Tamir’s life and derailing his career to an extent that saw him go from being a regular starter for then English Premier League club Bolton to a soccer nomad seeking his fortune at Hapoel Ra’anana.
At 29 years of age, Cohen should be in the prime of his career.
However, after all that has transpired over recent years, he just wants to enjoy life as a professional athlete once more.
“I feel great. The decision to come to Ra’anana was one of the best I made in my career,” Cohen said after scoring in Saturday’s 3- 1 win at Hapoel Ramat Hasharon.
“I probably look relaxed on the pitch because I’m enjoying every moment.”
Cohen netted his first goal since finding the back of the net for Bolton in a 2-1 victory over Arsenal in April 2011, when he memorably went on to reveal a T-shirt bearing a picture of his father.
His latest goal helped Ra’anana to its second win of the campaign, with the newly promoted side currently sitting in third place in the standings with seven points out of a possible nine.
After three-and-a-half years at Bolton, Cohen found himself without a contract in the summer of 2011, but seemingly had plenty of other options.
The offer he had hoped for from another club in England never arrived, but he did attract plenty of interest from Greek giant Panathinaikos before eventually signing a lucrative four-year deal at Maccabi Haifa.
Cohen, who had made 49 Premier League appearances at Bolton, ultimately decided to join Haifa as he wanted to be near his family after the tragic death of his father.
However, he experienced two dismal years at Haifa, playing only 14 matches for the club in 2011/12 before making a mere three league appearances last season, including only one in the final eight months of the campaign.
Cohen has since admitted that he was both physically and psychologically drained by the time he joined Haifa and that he was mentally lost without his father’s guiding hand.
The midfielder did initially feature in Reuven Atar’s plans last season, but the sacking of the coach combined with a broken bone in his foot saw Cohen relegated to a substitute’s role at best.
New coach Arik Benado used him in just a single league game and after long negotiations he finally came to an agreement to part ways with Haifa in July.
Cohen is no stranger to adversity, reaching the English Premier League despite being labeled as an overrated player at the start of his career at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Cohen joined Bolton from Maccabi Netanya at which he resurrected his career after struggling to find his place at his home club in Tel Aviv, making just three league appearances for the yellow- and-blue in the 2006/07 season.
The defensive midfielder made his international debut in October 2007, but hasn’t featured for Israel since recording his 21st appearance two years ago.
Cohen went from being a staple in the Israel side to being treated as damaged goods that very few clubs were willing to come near.
However, with Cohen lowering his financial requests and Ra’anana desperate for any experienced player who was willing to join the team, the midfielder found himself playing for a club which had only one previous topflight season on its resume and usually plays its home matches in front of just several hundred fans.
The nurturing approach of coach Menahem Koretzki, who is known for his personal connection to his players, and the relaxed mood at the club seems to be doing wonders for Cohen, who has stared in the team’s first three games after being named as the side’s captain.
Cohen looks to be finally back on track to returning to being the player he once was.
After scoring in Saturday’s match he raised his eyes to the sky while pointing both his index fingers upwards, dedicating the strike to his father.
Cohen’s challenge in recent years was far more personal than it was professional. Avi played a major role in his son’s career and the void left by his death can never be filled.
However, Tamir seems to have finally found his way, on his own, as he continues to rebuild both his life and soccer career.
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