Eng­land v Is­rael? No, Is­raelis in Eng­land

Meet the Jewish stars who are light­ing up Premiership foot­ball over here

The Jewish Chronicle - - HOME NEWS - BY ANDREW PENTOL, SI­MON GRIVER AND DANNY CARO

THE IN­VA­SION of Is­raeli foot­ballers into the Premiership took on new pro­por­tions last week­end, when four made their mark in the top-flight. For those non sports ob­ses­sives who none­the­less may have picked up some­thing about a mas­sive Eng­land v Is­rael show­down on March 24, this gives the JC an op­por­tu­nity to in­tro­duce some of the ris­ing Is­raeli stars who are al­ready mak­ing their mark with English teams.

Since Avi Co­hen made his Liver­pool de­but in 1979, play­ers from the Promised Land have been few and far be­tween. “Rocket” Ron­nie Rosen­thal, who won a League win­ners’ medal with Liver­pool in 1990, and Eyal Berkovic are two of the more re­cent suc­cess sto­ries, but the latest crop of Is­raelis are prov­ing a big hit. With the Euro 2008 qual­i­fier against Eng­land on March 24 loom­ing large, their de­vel­op­ment must have Eng­land man­ager Steve McClaren quak­ing in his boots.

On Satur­day, Yossi Be­nay­oun led the way, scor­ing two goals in West Ham United’s 3-3 draw in the Lon­don derby against Ful­ham.

Hav­ing fea­tured in re­cent FA Cup and Car­ling Cup ties, Chelsea’s 17year-old striker Ben Sa­har came off the bench to make his league de­but in the 4-0 home win over Wi­gan Ath­letic.

“Play­ing in three ma­jor com­pe­ti­tions in a week is some­thing not a lot of play­ers get to do at his age,” said Chelsea re­serve team coach Bren­dan Rogers, “and that is a sign of his progress at the club. We are very happy with him and be­lieve this is the be­gin­ning of a promis­ing ca­reer at Chelsea.”

Bolton Wan­der­ers duo Tal Ben Haim and Idan Tal, who played in the goal­less draw against Manch­ester City, com­plete the list.

A fifth Is­raeli, Ilan Bachar, could also join the fold. He is cur­rently un­der­go­ing a trial with Cham­pi­onship out­fit QPR and his agent Ro­nen Katzav is hop­ing QPR man­ager John Gre­gory will of­fer the full-back a con­tract un­til the end of the sea­son.

The 32-year-old in­ter­na­tional de­fender was re­leased by Pre­mier di­vi­sion side Hakoach Ami­dar Ra­mat Gan af­ter ad­mit­ting that he was out club­bing in Tel Aviv un­til the early hours of Sun­day morn­ing.

Bachar was a mem­ber of the Hapoel Tel Aviv team which reached the quar­ter-fi­nals of the Uefa Cup in 2001, beat­ing Chelsea along the way.

It was also re­ported this week that su­per-agent Pini Za­havi ne­go­ti­ated a £3 mil­lion pay­ment af­ter Nige­rian striker Yakubu Aiyeg­beni moved to Mid­dles­brough from Portsmouth in 2005.

This fol­lowed a hand­some fee of £1.125 mil­lion re­ceived from Manch­ester United for rep­re­sent­ing Eng­land in­ter­na­tional Rio Ferdinand dur­ing his move from Leeds United in 2002.

Za­havi this week agreed to help Lord Stevens’ Quest Team with its in­quiries into al­leged trans­fer ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties.

It is not all good news for the Jews, though. The fall-out be­tween Chelsea chief Ro­man Abramovich and boss Jose Mour­inho con­tin­ues to rum­ble.

The Rus­sian owner, who rarely misses a Chelsea match, is not on speak­ing terms with his man­ager af­ter “the spe­cial one” ex­pressed dis­con­tent at the owner’s de­ci­sion to with­hold funds to strengthen his in­jury-hit squad.

Teenage striker Sa­har could be joined at the club by an­other Is­raeli with Portsmouth tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Avra­ham Grant tipped to move to Stam­ford Bridge in a coach­ing role.

Grant, the for­mer Is­raeli na­tional team boss — who was brought to Frat­ton Park by Rus­sian owner Alexandre Gay­damak on the rec­om­men­da­tion of Za­havi — is be­lieved to have been put for­ward at an an­nual re­view of staff.

Abramovich is said to re­gard Grant, — who, con­trary to re­ports, does not speak Rus­sian — as some­one with the abil­ity to im­prove the for­tunes of £30 mil­lion striker An­driy Shevchenko.

Mour­inho has de­nied he is un­der pres­sure to re­place as­sis­tant-man­ager Steve Clarke and has threat­ened to leave the club if he is ousted in favour of the Is­raeli. Portsmouth boss Harry Red­knapp has added to the de­bate, in­sist­ing he would not stand in Grant’s way. “If Avra­ham wants to go it will be his de­ci­sion,” ac­knowl­edged Red­knapp.

“I do not have a prob­lem with Avra­ham and I don’t think any­one here could be up­set with him in any shape or form [if he left].” Mour­inho was hop­ing to snap up £2 mil­lion-rated Ben Haim, only for the deal to fall through on Wed­nes­day evening.

Bolton boss Sam Al­lardyce, who has seen the for­mer Mac­cabi Tel Aviv stop­per ma­ture into one of the Premiership’s top de­fend­ers, has re­signed him­self to los­ing the 23-yearold de­fender, who is out of con­tract in the sum­mer. But he does not ex­pect the player to leave dur­ing the Jan­uary trans­fer win­dow.

“At the mo­ment it looks as though he will be with us for the rest of the sea­son as we haven’t had an ac­cept­able of­fer from any club,” com­mented Al­lardyce. “He won’t sign a new con­tract and I’m sure he will be off in the sum­mer. I don’t blame him for us­ing the rules and reg­u­la­tions.”

Portsmouth owner Gay­damak has as­sured the club’s sup­port­ers of his long-term com­mit­ment to the South Coast club and spo­ken of plans to re­de­velop Frat­ton Park or re­lo­cate. “Our fans are the most unique and strong­est in the coun­try,” he told sup­port­ers at a re­cent meet­ing. “

Hav­ing taken so long to make their mark, the Is­raelis are here to stay.

West Ham’s Yossi Be­nay­oun cel­e­brates his re­turn to form with two goals in last week­end’s derby against Ful­ham

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