In the 1997/98 season, he made 25 league appearances and scored 15 goals. In the summer of 1998, Benayoun joined Maccabi Haifa, one of Israel’s top clubs.
In his debutant season at the club, he led the team to the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
For the 2000/01, he worked under current Chelsea boss Avram Grant and won the Israeli domestic league - the side’s first in seven years. Benayoun was voted the league’s player of the season, and it wasn’t long before other European sides began to court him.
All in all, he scored 55 goals in over 130 league appearances at Maccabi Haifa before he left to join Spanish La Liga side Racing Santander, a club which already had several Israelis.
He spent three seasons in Spain and had already become a leading player at his side before he moved to England to join newly-promoted West Ham United in the Premier League.
His first season in England turned out to be a rewarding one.
He established himself very quickly in the side and became one of the fans’ favourites at Upton Park. The Hammers reached the FA Cup Final and finished ninth in the league that term.
In July 2007, he took a pay cut to join Liverpool for a price tag of £4 million and was given the number 11 shirt.
He was never expected to be a regular first team player in the star-studded Liverpool side, but has since managed to score twice in ten appearances.
Benayoun made his national team debut in 1998 and was given the captaincy of the national side just after the 2006 World Cup qualifying ended. He earned his 50th cap for Israel in a friendly against Belarus in August this year.
Benayoun was born in Dimona in central Israel, a city surrounded by the Negev desert. It is one the smallest and poorest cities in Israel.
His father worked in the nuclear reactors in the desert, which are part of Israel’s controversial nuclear program, to support the family.
Hapoel Be'er Sheva, his first professional club, is the only senior team in the region and during his early days, Benayoun had to hitch-hike to get to the training ground.
When he was eleven, his football talents were spotted by scouts and at began to appear on magazines at 13. When he was fifteen, he was offered a training scholarship at the famed Ajax football academy.
The press in Israel followed his journey to Ajax closely, particularly because he came from a humble background.
After just eight months at the academy, Ajax offered him a professional contract. However, Benayoun turned it down to return to his hometown, as his family and girlfriend (now wife) failed to settle in Holland.
At that time, the Israeli press slammed his decision, saying that Benayoun lacked character and would never be able to make it in Europe.
The criticism he received turned out to be his biggest motivation.
He worked hard consistently throughout his career to prove his initial doubters very wrong.
When he began to play well for Hapoel and made his national team debut at 18, the media began to love him all over again.
Some papers dubbed him ‘the Kid,’ and the nickname has stuck to him ever since. Recent reports in Israel continue to call Benayoun the Kid, despite the fact that he is already 27 and a father.
Now a Liverpool player, Benayoun has very little left to prove to anyone else. He has the potential to become one of his country’s best players ever, and to do so, he must start winning trophies at both club and even country level.
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