Yossi Benayoun: The Diamond from Dimona

Yossi Benayoun: The Diamond from Dimona

Player Profile: Yossi Benayoun

Date of Birth: 05/05/1980

Height: 1.74 m

Position(s): Midfielder

National Team: Israel

International Caps: 102

International Goals: 24

Club Career

How many players can claim to have played for Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea? Not many! But Yossi Benayoun can. Despite this, looking back at his career, you can’t help but feel he failed to reach the great heights that everyone thought he could.

Benayoun was always earmarked for great things. Arguably, Israel’s first footballer superstar, his talent was evident from an early age. He was first spotted at nine, and by the time he’d turned 11, he was being spoken of as a footballing genius in his homeland. Benayoun even managed to get on the cover of a magazine by the time he was 13. 

Being a mini-celebrity did not make his path to professional football any easier, though. Born in the small, remote town of Dimona, Benayoun had to track around 60km each day across the desert just to attend training when he signed by Hapoel Be’er Sheva as a kid.

When he was just 15, Benayoun was invited to train with Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam. After quickly proving to be one of the best players in their youth ranks, he was offered a long-term deal by the club. But Benayoun and his family, who had moved to the Netherlands with him, were finding it difficult to adjust to life abroad. That led him to reject the deal and move back to Israel. Benayoun would later recall how his rejection of the Ajax deal was interpreted by the Israeli media as a sign of weakness. This led to local media suggesting that he did not have the character to make it as a footballer in Europe.

He wouldn’t take long to prove them wrong. At the age of 18, he joined one of Israel’s most prominent clubs – Maccabi Haifa – and soon became one of their most important players. Benayoun had chances to move to Europe during his early years with the club, however, due to mandatory military service, this move would have to wait. This arguably helped him develop into a more well-rounded player.

His first season for The Greens saw him notch up 24 goals in all competitions, a feat he replicated in his second season. The arrival of future Chelsea manager Avram Grant in 2000 spurred Benayoun and Haifa to further success. In the 2000/01 season, Haifa won the title for the first time in seven years, and Benayoun was adjudged the most valuable player of the season. He missed the start of the next season due to injury but still managed to spur Haifa on to another title win upon his return.

In 2002, Benayoun finally got his move to Europe, but it wasn’t to a big club like many had expected. Instead, it was with newly-promoted Racing Santander in Spain. Benayoun got better with each season that he spent in Spain. He scored four goals in his first season and increased it to seven goals the following year. By the time he was ready to leave Santander, he had finished the season with nine goals including a hat-trick against Deportivo de La Coruña. 

At this point, Santander did not own the rights to Benayoun’s contract. Instead, the club sold off his rights to his agents, who duly hawked him around England. Benayoun attracted a great deal of interest from the likes of Newcastle United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. But in the end, it was West Ham United that signed the Israeli international before the start of the 2005 season. Benayoun signed a four-year deal with the club after the Hammers paid a £2.5 million transfer fee for his services.

His two seasons in East London were a relative success, managing to keep newly-promoted West Ham in the Premier League. He only managed eight goals in 72 matches for the Hammers, but that was enough for Liverpool and Rafael Benitez to sign him for £5 million. While his time at West Ham United was fruitful, the end was acrimonious. Reports circulated that he had agreed on a new four-year deal to stay in London, only to backtrack on it when the Reds came calling.

Benayoun made a bright start to life at Liverpool, scoring eleven goals in all competitions in his first season at Anfield. But it wasn’t until the 2008/09 season that he was at his best. Liverpool mounted a serious title challenge and Benayoun played a crucial role in this.

His most memorable game that season was the exciting 4-4 draw with Arsenal during which Benayoun scored twice, including a last-gasp equaliser. In total, he contributed nine goals, eight of them coming in the league. Ultimately, Liverpool missed out on the title, finishing four points behind Manchester United.

The midfielders third season with the Reds saw him keep up his scoring record, netting another nine goals. But rumours began to swirl of a move away. One of the main factors was his deteriorating relationship with manager Rafael Benitez. He would later reveal that the Spaniard had mistreated him on multiple occasions during his time at the club. Despite Benitez departing at the end of the season, Benayoun followed him out the door.

The Israeli internationals next destination was Chelsea who signed him for £5.5 million. His stint with the Blues was a forgettable one, as Benayoun who was plagued with injuries, found game-time limited. He started just seven league games in his first season at Stamford Bridge. 

The very next season, Benayoun still struggled for game-time and pressed for a move away and soon joined London rivals Arsenal on loan. While with the Gunners, he made 25 appearances, scoring six times. But that was not enough to convince Arsenal to turn his loan into a permanent move.

Benayoun would again go out on loan the following year, this time rejoining his first Premier League club West Ham. His second spell did not last long though, ending after just six games due to injury.

He returned to Chelsea, and after recovering from injury made several appearances at the tail end of the 2012/13 season. Without doubt, his greatest achievement as a Blue was being part of the side that won the 2013 UEFA Europa League Final against Benfica.

After being released by Chelsea at the end of the season, Benayoun joined Queen’s Park Rangers in the English second-tier. He played 16 games for the club as they won promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs.

This was to be his last season abroad, as he left QPR and returned to the club where he had made a name for himself, Maccabi Haifa. Despite winning the Israeli State Cup with the club in 2016, his return proved to be less fruitful.

Benayoun then moved to rivals Maccabi Tel Aviv for a season, finishing runner-up in the league, before joining Beitar Jerusalem. Early on with the Menorah, he showed glimpses of his best, but this soon faded and after a series of poor performances, he lost his place in the first team.

With his career winding down, he joined Maccabi Petah Tikva for a short spell, before returning to Beitar Jerusalem. He made a handful more appearances for the club before calling it a day in 2019.

International Career

Yossi Benayoun made his international debut for Israel in 1998 and went on to make 102 appearances for his country, scoring 24 goals.

Despite never qualifying for a major tournament with his national team, Benayoun still managed to end his career as their most-capped player and second-highest goal scorer.

Where is Yossi Benayoun now?

After retiring in 2019, Benayoun joined Beitar Jerusalem – the last club that he played for – as their technical director.

Did you know? Interesting facts about Benayoun

– Benayoun’s father Dudu was a footballer as well. He used to play for the same club that Yossi started his career as a youth player – Hapoel Dimona.

– Benayoun is only one of three players to score a Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup hat-trick. Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane are the other two.