Beitar Jerusalem opened their match Sunday night with a fury as their new central defender, captain Ofir Kriaf scored in the 1st minute to give the home side a 1-0 lead. Playing in Petach Tikva at the Moshava Stadium due to a radius match punishment, Kriaf was playing in a new position for him as the team has been plagued with injury problems over the past month. It was also a return to the lineup for the much maligned captain moving out of his usual midfield spot to a new location on the pitch. One that he was more than happy to play just to get back into the game.
Ironically, Beer Sheva’s captain Eliyaniv Barda had been injured and had been doubtful to play against Beitar, but he came into the match at the 73rd minute mark and just 4 minutes later his entrance had paid off scoring the tying goal. However, right after his goal Barda was felled by an injury in the same area as to where he had already been having problems and yelled in pain as he made his way off of the pitch and onto the bench.
Captains in Israeli football and as they do in any team sport around the world in any sport play an important factor both on and off the field of play. Between riling up the troops, helping the coach get a certain message across and leading by example, both players did all of the above. For Kriaf it was setting the tone of the match and for Barda changing the outcome of it.
Kriaf has been with Beitar Jerusalem a number of years having grown up through it’s youth system and remained after owner Eli Tabib had purged the club once he purchased it a couple of years ago. Barda had an illustrious career in Belgium playing a central part in Genk’s success and came back to Israel to lead by example and share that what he had learned while away from the country.
Barda, originally from Beer Sheva also played his professional career in Israel with Hapoel Tel Aviv & Maccabi Haifa before moving onto Belgium for six years at Genk. He scored 57 goals and became a huge fan favorite during that time while also picking up tips and pointers and learning what it is to be a true leader and one who held the flame proudly for Israelis playing abroad. While Barda has only scored goals in spurts this season and age may be catching up to him, he still remains the conduit for the team even during times of turmoil as Ovidiu Hoban discusses.
There has been talk that Ofir Kriaf might find his way to brighter pastures in Belgium, which may not be the worst of things for the 24-year old Jerusalem native. Granted his situation at Beitar is not very secure at the moment and that he may have a chance of plying his trade while taking his leadership potential becoming the consummate professional that Elyaniv Barda has not only become but what any footballer would envy to be.
Is Kriaf disappointed with his current standing under coach Guy Levy? He most certainly is. Any player, especially the one who is supposed to be guiding his contemporaries finds himself on the bench game in and game out can’t be too excited with where his career is heading. It may be time for him to move on. However when asked if this was a message to the owner Eli Tabib that he was able to succeed in a new position and yet score a goal he said that he works hard on the pitch and would be very happy to stay with Beitar in a most mature manner.
Even Guy Levy the Beitar coach had praise for Kriaf saying that having him as a central defender was the best combination he has seen since Cesar Arzo & Zeev Haimovitz went down. Perhaps we will see this lineup for the final few matches, but truth be told Kriaf is not going to make his money in this position, it will be where he is a natural leader as a midfileder. Be it in Jerusalem or elsewhere.