Israeli international Ben Sahar has returned to Israel to begin his IDF service.
The 20-year-old striker, who plays for La Liga club Espanyol, began his army career as a youth motivational speaker this week.
He will be allowed to complete his service during his holidays in Israel, over a number of years, thanks to a change in army rules that allows “gifted athletes” based abroad to do their service over a longer period of time.
Up until the last couple of years top athletes competing abroad had to return to live in Israel to undertake their mandatory service. However, Sahar is the beneficiary of a relaxation of IDF rules that allows him to combine his career in Europe with army service.
Tennis star Shahar Peer is allowed to compete on the WTA Tour under a similar arrangement, which sees her serve in the IDF when she’s not playing tournaments.
Sahar said: “The Christmas holiday break has begun in Spain so I’ve returned to serve in the army. I’m excited and looking forward to beginning my service.”
All 18-year-old men are obliged to serve three years in the IDF, with women serving for two years.
Sahar, who left Chelsea last summer, has made 13 league appearances for Espanyol this season. He has scored once.
Espanyol purchased Sahar, regarded as one of Israel’s brightest talents, on a £1 million, four-year deal which runs until 2013, despite the Israeli failing to establish himself as a first-team player at Chelsea.
His three years at the club saw him make three first-team matches as well as over 30 appearances on loan at Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield Wednesday and Dutch side De Graafschap, where he enjoyed some success, scoring five times in 14 matches in Holland’s top division last season.