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INTERVIEW: Maccabi Tel Aviv Star Eran Zahavi – The Captain Unplugged

Eran Zahavi has played 3 years with Maccabi. Prior to the last Champions League match of the campaign the captain talked about his obsession to win, family, future and more

Dov Halickman Photography

What’s it like to be Eran Zahavi?

“I think I like it. It’s fun. Sometimes it’s a day to day challenge with a lot of pressure. But I would never say that I’ve had enough even though there are some days that I’d like to be able to do certain things without anyone staring and looking at me. But let’s be honest, it won’t be like this for many more years. It will be like this when I’m playing football. After that it will calm down for sure. One day there will be another Israeli football star and that’s how it will be.”

Zahavi off of the pitch:

“Sometimes I’m sitting with some people and they say that on the pitch they’re sure I’m a bit of a hotshot and stuff like that. Then they come and sit with me and talk to me for 10 minutes and they understand that I’m a totally different person than I am on the pitch. Off of the field of play I’m a normal person that lives a normal life with a family and three children. I have a great relationship with them and not just with them but also with my mother and my brother.

Growing up:

“I remember when my mother would take me to practice at 6am to Hod HaSharon for an extra morning practice session and then to school. She didn’t want me to sleep there so every time she would take me at 6am and that was her sacrifice for me. But even for me as a 15 year old it wasn’t easy to get up at that hour. My brother was also a footballer but didn’t have the same goals as I did, though he was no less of a player than me. If you spoke to him now he knows that I was more obsessive about football. It was my dream to be a footballer from a very young age and I’m very happy that they helped me reach my goal. I don’t know how many children would be ready to make the same sacrifices that I did today.”

Does your son Roy know how to talk yet?

“The morning before a match he gives me a hug and a kiss and tells me, ‘Daddy score some goals’ he kicks the ball and says ‘Pew, Pew’. It’s the most amazing thing in the world to see. He is beginning to get the picture and when all kinds of kids come over to take pictures with me he is a bit embarrassed. He grabs my hand and takes hold of me. But on the other hand he tells me, ‘Daddy let’s go to the mall, there are children who want to take pictures with you’. When he says these types of things I know that he understands everything that is going on.”

On being the captain of Maccabi Tel Aviv:

“I didn’t ask to be captain. I believe they chose me because the role suits me, knowing that I can set an example for the other players and by setting an example on the pitch. I think being the captain means much more than just the armband. When Sheran Yeini was captain last year I helped him a lot with many things and I know exactly what he did in our lockerroom and what he gave to the club from a professional standpoint. I had a good guide and teacher. Sheran’s still a better captain than me and I have plenty to improve upon. But slowly I believe I’ll close the gap, of course that’s if he doesn’t come back. I just have to appreciate the fact that they gave me the captaincy of Maccabi Tel Aviv which I believe is one of the most respected roles in all of Israeli football.

Maccabi advancing to the Champions League Group Stages:

“Very exciting. I can tell you that I was obsessed with the Champions League. Last year when we didn’t make it into Europe I was very upset. I believe that this is a competition that if one hasn’t experienced, then they don’t understand everything that goes on around it and the energy that is within the tournament. The matches are played in the largest stadiums in the world at the highest level of play and if there was a dream that you had as a child this was it.

I realized the dream to advance to the Champions League with Maccabi Tel Aviv because that was a goal that I had set for myself. If we didn’t make it into the Champions League last year then we knew we would have to win the league again in order to have the opportunity to play for it and that in itself is a goal. I’m happy that we achieved the goal but for me personally it has given me even more of an appetite to make it there all the time, not to advance one year and then have to wait another ten years. I won’t accept that because for me we have to be in the group stages every year and that has to be our goal.”

Are you afraid of the day after football?

“Yes many times. When I go two weeks without a practice, I go crazy. Every time we had a break my mother would tell me ‘go back to football already’ she couldn’t tolerate me being around because I didn’t have my outlet and if it’s taken away, I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know anything else. I’ve lived this for 23-24 years, practices, matches, to be competitive, to continue to improve. The day after I could do many things and I could maybe make a lot more money, but to get to such a ‘high’, enjoy what you do and realize a dream, this is priceless. I’m not naive and I know that the day after will come and unfortunately it will come quickly. I remember when I made it to the first team ten years ago; the time has gone by so fast. I try to enjoy every single moment that I’m on the pitch and achieve as much as I can because I know that one day it will end and I don’t want to finish with a feeling that I could’ve done more. I want to leave with the feeling that I did the best that I could and that I gave everything for my profession. What will be, only God knows.”

Courtesy Maccabi Tel Aviv Official Website