The Israel national team's journey ahead of the opening of the Euro 2024 qualifiers (Photo: Shlomi Gabbai | Video editing: Nir Chen)
Warning: the next column is going to be a little naive.
So naive that it opens with a desired image of victory.
Saturday, ten at night, Bloomfield.
Regardless of the final result in the game between Israel and Kosovo, an entire stadium will be on its feet, cheering, clapping and calling Beavers Natcho's name.
He will thank him for 13 years in the senior national team's service, give the captain a proper farewell, the respect he didn't always get here.
In such a difficult time, when everything is so disgusting, we all deserve one moment of sanity.
The truth is, Natcho deserves much more than that.
Natcho made 87 appearances in the senior national team's uniform and is fifth in the list of appearances records after Yossi Benyon (102), Tal Ben Haim (96), Eric Benado (94) and Alon Harazi (89).
He played under six coaches, not including interim coaches.
These are numbers reserved for virtuous individuals.
For players who have maintained a stable and impressive international career throughout almost their entire individual career in teams.
Players who had no replacement.
This is true for every team from every country, with one difference.
We don't recognize legends.
The last time.
Natcho (Photo: Barney Ardov)
Natcho's retirement was already in the air after the friendly match against Cyprus in November, when he signed his teammates on the match shirt.
It is not unusual for a 35-year-old player to decide to announce his retirement from international football of course, it is not unusual for a national team to want to go through the grieving process, but in Natcho's case, Yossi Benyon testified this week that he asked him to continue.
In fact, he kind of announced on behalf of Natcho about the decision the player made: "Beavers is one of the best people I've come across and one of the best and most loyal players in the Israeli national team. He deserves the greatest respect there is. I tried to convince him in many conversations so that he would continue as much as possible, but he decided It is not appropriate for him to play for the last time in front of a full stadium."
Next to Banyon, national coach Alon Hazan sat at the same press conference this week and he also used the word respect: "I think he didn't get the respect he deserved along the way. He should be a symbol for many children growing up in the youth teams. He knows what he represents, knows what he is author, understands that a footballer in the national team should be a special person and not just a good footballer. Many players who will take an example from him will have a rich career. Everyone who worked around him throughout his career, could not help but appreciate him."
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Tried to convince Natcho to continue.
Benion (Photo: Shlomi Gabai)
Banyon and Cantor are not alone.
Natcho has received enormous professional and social appreciation from coaches and players in the national team throughout his years.
Eli Gutman even called him "our Xavi".
They talked about him as the quiet leader, the other, the sane, the one who doesn't shout, but knows how to manage the locker room like he manages the game.
All this is true for what happened within the team.
When Hazan talks about a player who didn't get the respect he deserved, he means people from the outside - commentators, the media, even quite a few fans.
Natcho himself also said in an interview with "Yediot Ahronoth" a year ago: "Everywhere I played I received much more respect than in Israel."
Natcho received a status in Kazan, Moscow and Belgrade that he could never have received in Israel, but he continued to stand up and face this gap.
Although he was labeled as quiet, he never shied away from dealing with the media or making sharp statements about the situation.
One of his memorable speeches was after a 1:1 home draw with Northern Ireland at the end of Gutman's first campaign.
"Apparently we are not good enough. If it was one campaign then they could say that this generation is not good, but if this has been happening for 40 years then we are probably not good enough for these levels. We did not progress in this campaign because we finished in the same place as the previous one."
Later he said: "Look at the Northern Irish team, you can only applaud their audience. Maybe this will be an example for us, that the team is above all."
In his stations abroad he received more respect than in Israel. Natcho (Photo: Reuters)
Gutman wanted to appoint Natcho as captain in the second campaign under him (Euro 2016 qualifiers), but kept faith with more veterans Benyon and Ben Haim as long as they played, while his replacement Elisha Levy chose to give the golden ribbon.
Five years ago this week, in his 50th international appearance, Natcho served for the first time as captain in a friendly match that Hazan managed as a temporary coach.
If before that the criticism he received externally was about his professional ability, in recent years he has also faced the exhausting issue of the captain not singing the national anthem.
This preoccupation became increasingly official along with the general discourse in the country.
Natcho is a historic player and a trailblazer in the Israeli national team, but this should not be his legacy.
It's time that in a place where everyone is concerned about who gave more for the country and who served where and for how long, we will know how to appreciate the service a footballer gives to the national team.
To reduce an undisputed leader who gave more than half of his life to the various Israeli national teams to the level of singing the national anthem is to deliberately harm everything that football is supposed to represent.
It is to introduce a political, divisive and discriminatory discourse into a place that should be sterile.
It's infuriating and annoying.
Symbolized the team we all want to see.
Natcho (Photo: Danny Maron)
Yes, it may be naive, but he is the man who should be remembered for the fact that he symbolized the team that everyone wants to see.
A sane and unifying place that brings together the best in the industry - and it doesn't matter if they are Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Circassians, Druze, citizens or refugees.
Of all these, the most suitable will be appointed captain.
And of all these, the one who received the trust of coach after coach, who maintained professional stability over the years, who proved himself and his contribution and reached numbers of appearances like Natcho's deserves the respect of a local legend.
Everything else is not interesting.
Any other interference is another victory for the haters.
For 13 years Natcho was de facto the best in his position.
One that no one was willing to give up their contribution.
Of his 87 appearances, Natcho started 83 games.
The ease with which commentators and fans called him mediocre, blamed him (and others like Zahavi to be honest) for disappointing results or thought he could be given up is unimaginable.
It's a built-in disrespect for athletes.
In Israel, you are a star if you are a loud presence on the networks and especially if you are a virtuoso on the field and only when you are at your peak.
In any other situation, drive out of our sight.
Time to thank the captain.
Natcho (Photo: Kobi Eliyahu)
Sorry for the sharp transition, but everything has been shit here for a long time anyway.
You walk down the street and immediately they demand to know which camp you belong to.
We want you to wear your opinion around your neck and present it like a green sign at the entrance to businesses.
It's amazing how quickly we went from nicknames like vaccine opponents and disease spreaders to anarchists, traitors, fascists, terrorists, leeches and supporters of dictatorship.
The discourse is full of hate, disgust and contempt and everyone sends everyone else to hell.
The country is in flames and there is fire in the streets.
So tell me, is it so naive to ask for refuge in football?
A two hour break?
To feel a little sane and united before everything really goes to hell here?
How does all this relate to Natcho's retirement?
It is not.
But it's quite clear that the task of Banyon and Cantor will be to keep the team sterile and handle background noise a little better.
Because one day - and this day is really not far - we will go to a big tournament.
It will happen because we are really not that bad, because contrary to all the stigmas, the Israeli actor is a professional and hungry, because stars grow here and once in many years there are also those who are especially exciting with their potential.
Because by and large we are not as poor and weak as we like to paint ourselves.
We will rise because statistically it will have to happen at some point, that everything will work out in our favor.
On the day we ascend there will be headlines and celebrations and heroes and dancing until disappointment comes again and the knives are drawn.
But no one-off or lasting achievement will really be worth anything if we don't know how to cherish our local legends.
To give more respect and appreciation to those who give of themselves.
So on a note of naivety, a request to the talkbackists and especially to the viewers in Bloomfield - put everything aside and settle for two words: Thank you, Captain!
Israel national teams
Israel national football team