Former Hammer Yossi Benayoun will always be a favourite of mine. He remains fresh in my mind for three main reasons, the first being that whilst season ticket holders, my sister used to affectionately call me ‘Yossi’ after considering me to strike a resemblance to the midfielder.
No offence intended to the man himself, but that wasn’t exactly what a sensitive teenage girl wanted to hear! Secondly, he was a player that my Manchester United-supporting boyfriend, now fiance, was actually pretty excited about.
He had very rarely shown any affection for a West Ham player before, but he pinpointed him as the standout player when Israel played the Republic of Ireland in a World Cup Qualifier in 2005. So this was finally something football related we could talk about and not fall out over.
Thirdly, he was good at playing football, which helps. There is no better time to reflect on his playing days than now following the announcement of his retirement from the game. At the age of 38, although like many, I thought he was 38 long ago, he has called it a day after his opportunities to play this season somewhat fizzled out.
The Israeli had two spells with the Hammers, during the first he became a regular and important part of the team. West Ham had just been promoted back to the Premier League from the Championship, so there was a rebuilding process in place.
Arriving from Racing de Santander in La Liga, Benayoun would play a key role behind the strikers. He liked to pass forward and he often made good links between the more defensive-minded midfielders and attackers.
You’d always spot Yossi when he was running. His hair would flow wildly behind him whilst his aggressive looking elbows would jut out beside him. He had traits of a forceful player but was fairly mild mannered at the same time.
In his first spell at West Ham, he scored eight goals across two seasons, appearing 72 times in claret and blue, across all competitions. One of his most memorable goals was the winner against Spurs in May 2006.
Yes, the day of ‘lasagne-gate’. A lovely back-heel from Nigel Reo-Coker saw Yossi through on goal. He dodged the defenders and slotted past Paul Robinson. There was also, of course, a delightful chip from the very edge of the penalty area against Fulham, for his third of five goals in his first season in England. We’ve all seen that one a few times in the highlight reels!
Benayoun went on to score three goals the following season for West Ham before joining Liverpool in the summer of 2007. He moved to Merseyside despite having been offered a new, improved contract by the Hammers.
Despite leaving the East End in somewhat confusing and disappointing circumstances, the Israeli, who was then aged 32, rejoined West Ham on loan from Chelsea. This was a move that Benayoun said he was very happy about and called the Hammers a “great club”.
It’s nice to see players coming back for a second spell in claret and blue. Unfortunately, returning players are always a little older and don’t make the impact they did the first time around.
But from a sentimental and community spirit perspective, it means that there’s enough of a drawback to the personnel and the fans of the club. Sadly, Yossi didn’t even manage to see out the length of his loan contract after becoming injured before the calendar year was out. He had made six appearances.
In terms of his entire career, Benayoun played across an impressive 22 seasons. Along the way he picked up several accolades in Israel including two Israeli Premier League titles and an Israeli footballer of the year award. In England he won the Europa League with Chelsea and a Championship Play-off final with QPR. He remained a huge part of the Israel squad and departs as their most capped player and second top scorer of all time.
For West Ham, bringing him in for £2.5million was a steal. It feels like Benayoun could have gone on to become a real hero for the Hammers. The fans loved his work rate, his ability to run at players on the wing and his genuine love for playing football shone through.
As Opta reminded us on the day he retired, he’s one of only three players to score a hat-trick in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup. He’s in great company with Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane. Not bad for a midfielder! Happy retirement Yossi and thanks for the short, but sweet memories.