The new English Premier League season will kick off on Saturday without a single Israeli on any of the top league’s 20 teams.
It shouldn’t be seen as entirely out of the ordinary for a nation of Israel’s size and resources not to have any representatives in the Premier League. As Joshua Halickman, aka The Sports Rabbi, explained to the Forward over the past two decades of the League’s existence, only two Israeli players have really made an impact on the English game: Yossi Benayoun and Eyal Berkovic. In reality, “Israelis have never been major players in the Premier League.”
Yet last season, there was a relative glut of Israeli footballers in England’s top tier. Europa League winners Chelsea had ‘the Diamond from Dimona’ Benayoun in their ranks, though he was only a bit-part player, used mostly as a substitute and was unpopular with the fans. Striker Itay Schechter could have made more of an impact at Swansea City had he been given a fair run in the side, while workhorse defender Tal Ben Haim joined Queens Park Rangers for the second half of the season, playing only three games.
Now they’re all gone. Benayoun’s contract expired and he’s now a free agent, rumored to be on his way to Turkey or the MLS. Ben Haim, after having a loan move to Toronto FC nixed, signed a two-year contract with Belgian side Standard Liège. In search of first-team football, Schechter has gone back to Israel and Hapoel Tel Aviv, as has young Fulham forward Omri Altman — though he will play for crosstown rivals Maccabi.
Benayoun and Ben Haim were, in any case, moving to the latter stage of their careers. Both over the age of 30, they were no longer demonstrating that they had the pace, strength, or technical ability to compete in the Premier League. What is concerning, however, is that no players are coming up out of Israel to succeed them. “I don’t think English clubs are at all adverse to purchasing Israeli players,” CNN’s James Masters told The Forward. “It’s just at this moment in time, the majority aren’t at the standard required.”
The question of why countries produce good or bad generations of players is rarely answerable satisfactorily. In the case of Israel’s current paucity of talent able to play in the Premier League, it might have something to do with that as a small nation with fewer resources, the system for developing players at the club level is underdeveloped. “The youth academies need to be revamped top to bottom,” Halickman said. “Israel needs some serious football people and investment which, unfortunately, they don’t have to be able to produce top line footballers.”
It might also be the case, however, that Premier League clubs aren’t looking hard enough. “The problem is that Premier League teams always want proven players and high-profile names,” Raphael Gellar, founder of Gellar Sports Radio and host of Kicking it with Raphael on World Football Daily, told the Forward. “Israel doesn’t have that big name the fans or the clubs in England want. Even if they were very successful in Israel, it doesn’t mean much. If they let the youth play more often and gave more Israelis a chance, I think we would see a lot more Israelis try and play in England.”
If you habitually discard the sports section, you might have missed news of European soccer’s biggest transfer story since Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United for Real Madrid four years ago. It involves Madrid again, in fact – Tottenham Hotspur’s star winger Gareth Bale is rumoured to be on the verge of moving there for a record-breaking $129 million.
The chance to play in the Champions League for one of Europe’s most successful clubs is a huge draw for Bale. He wants to leave – or rather, Bale hasn’t denied that he wishes to.
But there’s a snag. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is said to be holding out for more money. Even though Bale was purchased for a mere $7.6 million from Southampton in 2007, Levy wishes to bide time until Madrid offer as much as $152 million, perhaps even throwing in a player as a makeweight for the loss of the most gifted player Spurs have had for years, decades even.
News of Bale’s desire to get away from north London has turned some Spurs fans against him – such is soccer, where supporters are at once tribal and fickle. But ire has also been directed at the chairman – some of it anti-Semitic. Jay Stoll, General Secretary of the London School of Economics Students’ Union, highlighted yesterday the stream of abusive tweets directed towards Levy:
Twitter is a wonderful medium, but even at the best of times to use Stoll’s words it is a “cesspit of filth,” whether that be racism, sexism, homophobia, or anti-Semitism. Only this week, feminist campaigners in the UK have been pushing for a ‘report abuse’ button to be added to twitter so that those who threaten to rape or murder women directly can be weeded out and dealt with. To this extent, the tweets directed towards Levy are unsurprising, and in that there is much to be saddened about and ashamed of.
These tweets, however, also raise an important question of whether how Levy is portrayed in the media at-large reinforces a certain image or stereotype. For, over the past several seasons, Levy has acquired a reputation as the toughest negotiator in English soccer. It has become cliché to say that Levy is hard-nosed, tough, stubborn, or uncompromising.
With his election last Friday, Michael Applebaum has become not only the first non-native French speaker in a century to hold the post. He is also the first-ever Jewish mayor of the second-largest French speaking country in the world.
“It’s definitely a proud day,” Leo Kolber, a businessman, philanthropist, former Canadian senator and lifelong Montrealer, said about Applebaum’s swearing-in ceremony on Nov. 19.
Applebaum, 49, was chosen by a two-vote margin by city councilors after he ran as an independent calling for transparency in government, following the resignation of former mayor Gérald Tremblay. Tremblay resigned earlier this month as a result of revelations made by the Charbonneau Commission exposing widespread corruption among Montreal officials, contractors and members of organized crime.
As Montreal mayor, Applebaum must step down as borough mayor of Cote des Neiges/Notre Dame de Grace, one if the city’s most heavily populated boroughs, and one with a high concentration of Jewish residents. His interim post will last only until municipal elections scheduled for November 3, 2013. Applebaum has stated that he will not seek re-election.
“I see very clearly what people are saying on the street,” Applebaum told The Montreal Gazette. “I am very much a goal-oriented person and I think we have an opportunity,” Applebaum said. “I personally have an opportunity to really make a difference.”