By Moshe Halickman
It was reported late Wednesday night that Hapoel Beer Sheva defender Hatem Abd Elhamed is moving to Scotland to play for powerhouse Celtic, for roughly 2 Million Euros plus bonuses.
28 years old, Elhamed is known is one of the best Israeli defenders today. Born in the Israeli-Arab town Kafr Manda in 1991, Elhamed had to work his way up to the top. As a young player, who only started to play the game at the age of 16.5, he began as a striker and played at the youth academies of Bnei Sakhnin and Maccabi Tel Aviv. At the same time he also played for the under-18 and under-19 squads of the Israel national team.
When he was 18 years old, Elhamed suffered a tragedy as his younger brother died in a car accident. The Israeli defender, who saw his brother pass away right in front of his eyes said, “My life had to continue. I have a family and a career. When your brother dies in your hands, you can’t just forget about it. He will be a part of me until my final days.” Today, Elhamed who is married to Manda has a son and live in Beer Sheva.
Once Elhamed finished his time at Maccabi Tel Aviv’s youth academy, he was promoted to the senior team and played a League (Cup) game against his childhood club of Bnei Sakhnin. However, the coach at the time Yossi Mizrahi didn’t give him a chance in the Israeli league and was loaned midseason to Charleroi in Belgium, where he made only one appearance. Charleroi had an option to continue, but they decided to end the relationship.
After an unsuccessful start to his professional career, Elhamed moved to a small team in the Israeli league, SC Ashdod and played there from 2011 until 2015, before he was loaned to Romanian outfit Dinamo Bucharest.
Elhamed made a big impact in Romania and scored 3 goals and added 2 assists in just 13 matches, however the team didn’t pick up the option they had. In turn, Ashdod didn’t wait too long, and sold an in form Elhamed to Belgium side Gent for 1 Million Euros. However, Elhamed only played one match during 2015-16 and when the season ended he was loaned back to Ashdod.
After playing the entire 2016-17 season in Ashdod, Elhamed was sold back to Ashdod by Gent at a loss of 500k Euros. Ashdod once again thought fast, and just over a month later they profited by selling Elhamed for 1.2 Million Euros to Hapoel Beer Sheva, where he played from the 2017-18 until today.
Elhamed, who originally signed a 5 year contract with Beer Sheva, was developed under coach Barak Bachar who helped turn him into one of the most respected defenders in the Israeli league, helping them win a championship in the 2017-18 season. However, in March of this year, he was in a car accident while on his way to the final training session before a league match against Maccabi Netanya. Elhamed spoke about the accident, “I didn’t leave my house for 20 days. I put my phone on airplane mode and didn’t speak to anyone. I was in a serious trauma, but slowly I came back to myself. Today I feel much better. It’s already in the past.”
After recovering from the injury, Elhamed finally made his International debut in a European Championship qualifier against Poland, when he ironically came on for his new Israeli Celtic teammate and former teammate at Ashdod, Nir Bitton.
So how will Celtic fans enjoy Elhamed at Celtic Park?
First off, Elhamed could play in multiple positions. He has experience as a right back and as a defensive midfielder, while over the past 3 years he played at a very high level as a centre back.
Elhamed is tall (1.86 Meters) which helps him with his heading ability, perhaps one of the best in Israel, as he won 61 out of 84 aerial battles this past season. Elhamed was one of the fastest defenders in the Israeli league, is a decent passer, and an excellent tackler, as he won 75 tackles out of the 108 he attempted.
Despite being a 28 year old, Celtic are getting an experienced player, who will help in European competitions, as well as the domestic league and will be a force as the Scottish champions look to get back to the top in continental play.