Tomer Hemed (left) and Beram Kayal — the Jewish-Arab duo from Israel with English soccer team Brighton and Hove Albion. Photo: BHAFC/Paul Hazlewood

If Israeli players are a rare site in the upper echelons of European soccer — at least when compared with the number of Argentinians, Dutch, Brazilians, Germans and other nationalities who pepper the continent’s finest teams — an Israeli duo is virtually unknown. But when the English soccer season begins towards the end of August, two of Israel’s finest exports, Tomer Hemed and Beram Kayal, will make their debuts in the coveted Premier League, wearing the colors of newly-promoted Brighton and Hove Albion.

Combine the story of Hemed and Kayal’s friendship, which stretches back to their time as youth players in the Israeli port city of Haifa, with Brighton’s imminent arrival in England’s top flight after an absence since 1983 — a miserable season which saw them sink into soccer’s second tier and lose the prestigious FA Cup Final to Manchester United, followed by almost three decades living with the shadow of bankruptcy over the club — and you have enough plot lines for a mini-series.

For Hemed, now 30, and Kayal, who is 29, the story begins in the youth system of Maccabi Haifa. Both played in Haifa’s youth team, with Kayal spending a successful career in Israeli soccer entirely with the club. Hemed spent a few seasons on loan to other clubs in Israel, returning to Maccabi Haifa for their championship winning 2010-11 season, during which he delighted the Haifa faithful with a tally of 18 goals.

After that, the glamor of European soccer came calling for both players. Kayal headed for the venerable Glasgow Celtic in Scotland, while Hemed went to Spain and La Liga, playing for both Almeria and Majorca.

Hemed reflected on his experience thus far in an interview with The Algemeiner. “For Israeli players, it’s not easy to come and play in the big leagues, in places like Spain, England and Germany,” Hemed said.

“We had a few who succeeded,” he continued, reeling off a list of Israeli players who made their careers in the Premier League, two of whom — Yossi Benayoun and Tal Ben-Haim — played for 13 different clubs between them.

In soccer, such restless wandering is often a sign that a player is struggling to make the starting line-up. But Hemed and Kayal have become familiar figures in Brighton’s first team for the last two seasons. In 2015-16, Kayal, a midfielder, was named the club’s player of the year, while Hemed, a striker, overcame a difficult start to crown the season as Brighton’s top scorer, with 18 goals.

This year, as Brighton ­— a festive town on England’s south coast ­— achieved the promotion denied them at the final hurdle the year before, Hemed netted 14 goals. Kayal played a smaller role in the campaign, having spent the months of October until January on the sidelines with a nasty ankle injury. With the promotion celebrations out of the way, neither player, Hemed made clear, is …read more

Source:: The Algemeiner


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