Ozzy Neav


Over the last year, we have seen a steady and increasing migration of Israeli football players to Belgium. The Israeli football public has raised a collective eyebrow at what they ignorantly perceive as a dry, second tier league in Europe. Some Israeli based players share in the misconception and feel that their colleagues are simply leaving Israel not for professional purposes, but simple arrogance and the ability to proclaim an involvement in European Football. If this is the general consensus, then why are Israelis looking towards Belgium for professional advancement? And who is behind these moves and why?

Over a decade ago, Israeli Football was in its European infancy. Israel was only beginning to enter the Euro community and the larger European leagues seemed daunting and unapproachable. Big wigs in the IFA (Israeli Football Association) hatched a scheme whereby Israelis would be marketed to a smaller league that would essentially serve as a stepping stone to larger leagues such England and Italy. Switzerland became the ideal choice. The Swiss were not light years ahead of Israel in football talent and tactical understanding. Many Swiss players left their native land to play abroad, thus creating a domestic void which could be filled by ambitious Israeli footballers.

The Swiss however, had other plans. They snubbed Israeli football and proclaimed their players unfit for European competition. The only exception to this was former Israeli national attacking midfielder Haim Revivo. (Maccabi Haifa, Celta Vigo, Fenerbahce) Swiss side Grasshoppers Zurich were willing to spend a million dollars to secure his services. However, Revivo opted for Spanish club Celta Vigo and the rest is history. Suffice to say, the planned Israeli insertion into Switzerland never took off, with a few minor exceptions.

The Belgian movement is similar in many ways to the Swiss scenario. Israeli footballers, fixated with European Football, are crowding the proverbial docks with hopes of attracting attention from a Belgian club. Unlike the Swiss however, the Belgians are buying into the Israeli import concept and are willing to give Israeli players a chance to ply their trade in the Jupiler League.

This has proved to be a win-win situation for both parties. The Israeli players receive the much coveted European experience and are more frequently scouted by bigger clubs. The Belgians in turn receive cheaper foreigners as opposed to the cash they would be forced to dish out for Europeans of the same caliber. Israeli players, while receiving better wages than their African counterparts, are still far behind Europeans. On paper, this all makes excellent business and football sense. One is still forced to wonder how this so called Israeli invasion took place so quickly. Surely there must be contributing factors to explain this almost suspicious situation. There is in fact a plausible explanation for all of this, and his name is Dudu Dahan.

Dudu Dahan is an Israeli agent who by sheer business savvy has opened the gates of the Belgian market and paved the way for Israeli football players to make the move. He has long been at odds with Hapoel Tel-Aviv over player contracts and negotiations. The Red Devils claim that Dahan usurped control of their players by force and used underhand and unethical tactics that have caused Hapoel to come out short handed in many transfer dealings. Long rumored to have connections to the Jewish diamond community in Belgium, Dahan is supposedly seeking long term monetary rewards by cashing in when the Israeli foreign contingent graduates to more prosperous European leagues.

Having discussed the circumstances involved, let us take a look at the actual players making the headlines.

Name: Salim Tuama

Age: 28

Club: Standard Liege

Position: MF

Tuama is considered by many to be the best Israeli player currently in Belgium. Many have compared him to Shalom Tikva who also played for Standard Liege enjoying plenty of success. Tuama is an excellent midfielder who excels at set pieces and possesses a bend-it-like-Beckham shot. He is an ultimate team player who usually puts the clubs agenda ahead of his own. Tuama’s greatest skills can be found off the pitch. He is both humble and pleasant. These two traits have won him more admiration and respect than any other Arab player in Israeli football history.

Name: Elyaniv Barda

Age: 26

Club: Racing Genk

Position: ST

Critics have dubbed him inconsistent, but Elyaniv Barda ended his career with Hapoel Tel-Aviv in style, turning in some fantastic performances. He was arguably the best player in the team and Hapoel officials blame their nightmarish position in the IPL (Israeli Premier League) on his absence. A skillful striker, Barda will nevertheless have to prove that his finishing is good enough to merit a spot with a top European club.


Name: Gili Vermouth

Age: 23

Club: KAA Ghent

Position: AM

Gili Vermouth has not enjoyed the success that Tuama and Barda have. With only four appearances to date for Ghent, Vermouth has less than half a season to prove to the management and fans that he is worthy of a place in the starting eleven or he could find himself back in the Holy Land by the summer. Pundits agree that while Vermouth posses’ exceptional technical skills, he lacks the tactical understanding to get to grips with team strategy and formation concepts.


Name: Omer Golan

Age: 22

Club: KSC Lokeren

Position: FC

Fresh off the boat, Omer Golan is Lokeren’s newest acquisition. With 22 caps under his belt, Golan may be new to the European club stage, but his national team experience will aid him during his adjustment period. Highly touted, Golan has a contract release clause that allows him to leave for bigger clubs. He was courted by Standard Liege and several English outfits, but settled on Lokeren who offered him the most lucrative arrangement and time to adapt.


Name: Barak Yitzhaki

Age: 23

Club: KRC Genk

Position: ST

Another recent signing, Barak Yitzhaki is arguably the best striker in Israeli football. Quick, agile and with a nose for goals, Yitzahki is coming off a fantastic first round in the IPL and many will look for him to continue his good run in Belgium. One major hurdle that Yitzhaki will have to contend with is the stronger Belgian defences. Being small in stature, he will have to depend more on his speed to overcome bigger, stronger defenders. This problem is similar to the one Eyal Berkovich faced when he was first transferred to Southampton.