It’s the most wonderful time of the year in European football. Rumors about players, coaches, and transfers are never-ending… will Wesley Sneijder move to Liverpool from Inter Milan? (I hope so.) Will Kaka leave Real Madrid to make room for a megadeal to keep Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabeu for the forseeable future? (Probably.) Will Pep Guardiola manage Bayern Munich next year? (Yes.)
With European leagues at the halfway point, it’s time to give a shout-out to some of the Israeli players who are competing in them. (This is by no means a comprehensive list.)
Tomer Hemed is in his second season at RCD Mallorca in Spain’s La Liga. He has done splendidly, scoring seventeen goals in all competitions in his two years and forty-nine appearances for the club. This year he has seven goals in fourteen games- not bad at all. Teammates with Hemed is goalkeeper Dudu Aouate, who is in the middle his fourth season at Mallorca. He has made 133 appearances for Mallorca and makes most of the starts in goal for Israel’s national game. Unfortunately for this duo, Mallorca currently sits in 18th place, at the top of the relegation zone, so they’ll need to make up some ground to avoid dropping down to the Second Division.
Beram Kayal and Rami Gershon sit at the top of the Scottish Premier League table with Celtic FC, who are enjoying a relatively easy campaign given their archival Rangers’ relegation to the Fourth Division. Kayal, a former star for Maccabi Haifa, is a consistent starter at Celtic Park, while Rami Gershon just made a transfer from Belgian side Standard Liege. There are rumors, though, of Kayal moving to EPL side Norwich City.
Itay Shechter has been at Swansea FC on a loan from Kaiserslautern but has only appeared in ten games. You might remember him from his famous goal in Champions League qualifying for HaPoel Tel Aviv in 2010 when he put on a kippah to celebrate his goal in Salzburg. Hopefully he’ll crack the lineup for often for a team that is in a surprising 9th place position.
Yossi Benayoun returned to Chelsea over the summer after a fairly productive term on loan at Arsenal in the spring. He toured the USA with Chelsea during the pre-season and was loaned to West Ham early in the year. He sustained an injury, however, and is currently back at Chelsea undergoing rehab. It’s been a great career in England for Yossi, including his incredible goal for Liverpool against Real Madrid in the Champions League Round of 16 in 2009, but the end might be near.
Centre-Back Tal Ben Haim just joined last-place Queens Park Rangers on a short-term contract to help move the team out of the cellar. Ben Haim has been kicking around the English leagues for a few years, including stints with Bolton, Chelsea, Manchester City, Sunderland, West Ham and Portsmouth. Unfortunately his recent addition to QPR resulted in some ugly anti-Semitic comments on the club’s Facebook page.
Who is the next Israeli footballer looking to make the jump to the Continent? Nir Bitton of FC Ashdod had an impressive tryout with Manchester City last year and should be poised to make the leap before too long. It would be interesting to see Man City’s owners from Abu Dhabi take a flyer on an up-and-coming Israeli… that would be something.
Pictured above: Tomer Hemed celebrating a goal for Mallorca
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