Exactly 30 years after becoming the first Israeli to play in England, a former Liverpool defender is looking forward with relish to the new Premier League season.
Today, Avi Cohen is the chairman of Israel’s Professional Footballers Association. He is tipping Liverpool to win the league title but admits he is biased by being an ardent Reds fan who wanting to see Yossi Benayoun crown his career with a trophy.
Cohen said: “I think Yossi has now become the most successful Israeli ever to play in England, or for that matter, anywhere in Europe.
“Ronny Rosenthal and myself both played in Liverpool teams that won the championship and, although Yossi is yet to do that, he is one of the most significant players at one of Europe’s greatest clubs. The new contract he was given proves that.
“Ronny and I never achieved that. Eyal Berkovic in England and Haim Revivo in Spain and Turkey had marvellous careers but they never really made it at a club of Liverpool’s stature.
“Let’s face it, for the past 15 years the Premier League title has been about United, United and United. They’ve let in Arsenal and Chelsea once in a while. But Liverpool ran them close last year and now United are without Ronaldo, this could be Liverpool’s year for the first time since 1990.”
Cohen will also be focused on Bolton where his son Tamir, a defensive midfielder, will be starting his third season with the Trotters.
“Tamir is thankfully fully fit. He had a terrible season last year, suffering one injury after another and he hardly played. But he was appearing regularly in the last month of the season and he scored an important goal. He is very much in Gary Megson’s plans for the new season, although I don’t know if he will be in the starting line-up or on the bench against Sunderland tomorrow. Bolton are one of 12 clubs who will struggle but they have enough quality to avoid relegation.”
Cohen is also optimistic that Man City defender Tal Ben Haim can revive his Premier League career. “He played most of the game against Celtic last Saturday and has appeared in almost all of City’s pre-season friendlies. Of course there is a lot of uncertainty at City and who knows what will be but I think Tal is a great player who can re-establish himself at City.
“Since he moved to Chelsea two years ago things haven’t gone well for him. I know he has been working very hard and is determined to prove himself again this season.”
Cohen insists that Ben Sahar has not made a mistake by leaving England and joining La Liga outfit Espanyol. He said, “He wasn’t really given a chance in England. Now he will have an opportunity to show what he can do.”
He expects that the number of Israelis playing in England will be even greater in the coming years. “Israeli youngsters today are much better equipped to succeed in England than I was 30 years ago.
“Israeli football has moved a long way and the football education and training methods here cannot be compared today with even 10 or 20 years ago. Eyal Golosa at Maccabi Haifa, and Gai Assulin if he doesn’t make it at Barcelona, are among the new generation of teenagers coming through who we may soon see in England.”