Sinai says: Vermut’s long,rewarding path

Journey to becoming the best player in the Israeli Premier League has been anything but conventional.

Gili Vermut’s journey to becoming the best player in the Israeli Premier League has been anything but conventional.
The 25-year-old is built in the mold of playmakers Yossi Benayoun and Eyal Berkovic, but unlike the Benayouns and Berkovics of the world, he had to wait until his mid-20s to realize his potential.
Vermut’s talent was never a secret, but he struggled to make his breakthrough as a teenager. It wasn’t until last season that everything fell into place for the Kiryat Yam native, allowing him to finally fulfill his promise and lead Hapoel Tel Aviv to a Premier League and State Cup double.
On Wednesday, he will be Hapoel’s X-factor in its matchup against Red Bull Salzburg in the first leg of the Champions League playoffs in Austria.
Tel Aviv will need a strong team effort to return to Bloomfield Stadium for the return leg with a favorable result. And Vermut has the most important role to play – he’s the maestro who orchestrates coach Eli Gutman’s fine-tuned machine.
When Vermut is at his best, Tel Aviv’s free-flowing and attacking play is a joy to behold. But Vermut’s ability to make his teammates play better can also work against the side when he’s experiencing an off-day.
Like an orchestra without a conductor, the entire team’s play suffers when Vermut’s under par – something it can not afford if it’s to reach the group stage of European soccer’s most prestigious competition for the first time in club history.
Vermut came through the Hapoel Haifa youth system and made his debut for the team in the 2003/04 season.
He joined Tel Aviv in 2005, but in his first two seasons with the Reds he was just another squad member, which should be unthinkable for a player of his aptitude.
Three summers ago he left Hapoel for Belgian club K.A.A. Gent, a surprising move considering his mediocre performances in the Premier League.
It was anything but a shock when he returned to the Reds after just one season in Europe.
The change of scenery might not have worked, but the guidance of Gutman bore fruit almost immediately.
Vermut showed significant improvement in the 2008/09 campaign and was unstoppable last season.
At first glance, Vermut is anything but special.
But when he flashes his super-quick first step and outrageous body fakes, combined with his remarkable ball control, he becomes an irresistable force.
Like Benayoun and Berkovic, Vermut still has plenty of room for improvement with his shooting, but who needs to shoot when you can waltz your way into the back of the net? Nine league goals as well as four strikes in the cup – two of them in the final – marked Vermut’s return last season, a total he will be looking to improve in the coming campaign.
However, creating goals is his real expertise, with the midfield magician passing 23 assists last season, including seven in 12 matches in the Europa League.
The big stage seems to bring out the best in Vermut, but in order to get to the biggest stage European soccer has to offer, he will first have to take his team past a tricky Salzburg side.
It will be anything but easy, but Vermut has waited far longer than expected to get this chance, and this could well be his finest hour.