Israeli football has hardly set the world alight on the international stage, but there was one player who lit up the Premiership in his time at various clubs, with spells at West Ham, Southampton, Celtic, Manchester City and Portsmouth. A player with sublime skills, combined with a even bigger penchant for rubbing people up the wrong way, this midfielder paved the way for future Israeli talent like Yossi Benayoun and Tal Ben Haim to mark their mark in the Premiership. What happened to Eyal Berkovic?
Known as “Ha-Kossem” or “the Magician”, Berkovic joined Southampton on loan in 1996 from Israeli club Maccabi Haifa and excelled at The Dell, particularly in the infamous 6-3 demolition of Manchester United, where the midfielder scored twice and got three assists in the rout.
Berkovic’s creativity and the ability to score spectacular goals saw West Ham snap him up in 1997, where he played for two years and scored 10 goals in 65 games. After a training ground bust-up with John Hartson that saw the Israeli kicked in the face, Berkovic left Upton Park and took his considerable talents to the SPL with Celtic for £5.75 million.
After two years in Scotland and falling down the pecking order under Martin O’Neill, Berkovic moved to Blackburn on loan before securing a permanent move to Man City. The Israeli was extremely successful for City, becoming a fan favourite and once again being a thorn in Man United’s side, this time in the 3-1 derby victory in 2002. Berkovic was named City’s player of the season 2002-03 but a public spat with then-manager Kevin Keegan saw him shipped to Fratton Park to join Portsmouth. Under Harry Redknapp, Berkovic was a hit, orchestrating a win against former club City in on his debut. But when ‘Arry left for Southampton, the Israeli struggled to hold down a first-team place and left after a single season to return to Israel and sign for Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
Known for his intelligence as a playmaker and his amazing assists, Berkovic was a hit in his nine years in Britain. But it was his temper and attitude that also defined Berkovic as a player, falling out with numerous team-mates and managers such as John Hartson, Kevin Keegan and Israel international Reuven Atar whilst at Maccabi Haifa, the midfielder could be said to suffer from classic little-man syndrome.
Berkovic retired in 2006, where he had a short stint in charge of Maccabi Netanya. Even after retirement, Berkovic’s lust for confrontation hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down, after being found guilty of assaulting the coach of his son’s schoolboy team, after his son was substituted in a game in 2007.
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