The Last Word: Last, but by no means least

It has been an exciting three years, but it is time to move on.

As I sat down to watch Israel’s Under-21 national soccer team lose to Sweden last Friday I felt a distinct tinge of nostalgia.
It was nearly three years exactly since I had taken over as Sports Editor of The Jerusalem Post and passed up on the opportunity to join my close friend and Post sports photographer Asaf Kliger on a trip to Holland to follow the Israeli team at the UEFA Under-21 European Championships.
Three years is a relatively long time in the sports world, especially in Under-21 soccer, where national squads can change completely from year to year with the best players advancing to the senior squad and many others passing the age limit.
Moti Ivanir’s current squad has much potential but looks set to miss out on next year’s Euros after falling 1-0 last week.
How different it was just a few years ago.
Although Guy Levy’s talented group failed to set Europe alight in the summer of 2007, there was a palpable sense of excitement in this country during the build up to the tournament.
International youth events rarely attract much media coverage in most countries, but for Israelis it was the first time since the 1976 Olympic Games (where Israel lost 4-1 to Brazil in the quarterfinals) that their national team was playing on the world stage. So the interest level was close to fever pitch.
Unfortunately Israel didn’t manage to score a goal in the three group games, finishing bottom of Group A after losing 1-0 to Holland and Beligum and then 4-0 to a Portugal squad which included Manchester United winger Nani.
It may not have been the most enjoyable experience for the Israeli squad, but the lessons learned would no doubt prove valuable for many of the players involved.
And at least Asaf had a great time and took some wonderful photographs.
In the meantime I set about revitalizing the sports department of this newspaper. While publishing numerous stories and analyses on the international sports world, my real aim as sports editor was to highlight the excitement as well as the many idiosyncrasies in Israeli sports.
Over the last 36 months I have also done my best to produce a topical analysis piece in this column each week. I felt there was a need for the sports section to have a voice, an editorial of sorts, in order to speak to the readers.
However, it is time to move on and I must now announce that this will be my last column for this newspaper as next week will be my last week as the Post’s Sports Editor.
The Last Word has been a regular feature in the sports pages of The Jerusalem Post since January 2006. It would be folly of me not to pay tribute to former Post Sports Editor Frankie Sachs who inspired and encouraged me to write The Last Word on a regular basis throughout the first six months of 2006 before leaving to work for the Euroleague.
It has been an exciting three years for me, and the Israeli sports world, which has seen many changes as well as a fascinating level of history appearing to repeat itself.
The efforts of Levy’s youngsters, for example, were comparable to that of Elisha Levy’s Maccabi Haifa side in last season’s Champions League, the Greens also unable to dent the net despite losing 1-0 in most of the matches.
And Shahar Pe’er, the first recipient of the Post’s Israeli Sports Personality of the Year award which I launched in December 2007, has returned to the top of her game after a few difficult years.
On the other hand, there have been numerous advances, from Omri Casspi’s superb debut season in the NBA to Yossi Benayoun’s amazing impact as a key player in Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool squad and the changes in the local basketball league leading to Maccabi Tel Aviv’s downfall, with the yellow-and-blue losing the BSL title for the second time in three years last month.
We at the Post’s sports department have closely followed all this and more, our near-obsession with Israeli sports allowing us to criticize the mistakes and delight in the triumphs. Deputy Sports Editor Allon Sinai has been our eyes and ears, covering everything from soccer to ice dance while writing his own weekly column, Sinai Says on Wednesdays.
As Sports Editor, I have had the privilege of interviewing some of the greatest names in sports, personalities like Don King, Casspi, Robert Kraft and Pe’er herself.
I have also been able to witness some historic moments, includingIsrael’s Davis cup team’s defeat of Russia’s in front of 10,000 at theNokia Arena, Hapoel Holon and Gilboa/Galil winning the basketballleague championships, and, closest to my own heart, Betar Jerusalemclinching a first double in club history.
And I have attended some exciting events such as Maccabi Tel Aviv atthe 2008 Euroleague Final Four in Madrid, England vs Israel at WembleyStadium and not forgetting the Maccabiah Games’ opening ceremony lastsummer.
It has been a gratifying experience and all I can do is urge you tocontinue to follow Israeli sports. The local sporting community isgrowing and vibrant. Find a team to follow, get involved and become areal part of Israeli society.