My name is Daniel Rose, I am 37 (and a half), educated and I would like to think of myself as a thinking person. I am not prone to infantile obsessions or infatuations (although my wife may beg to differ). But I do believe in the power of role modeling. In fact, that is what I wrote my doctoral dissertation on and the reason why I chose to be an educator over twenty years ago. And I would like you to know that you are my role model. And I would like to tell you why.
It was a wonderful moment when my worlds collided, the planets aligned, and the universe became a place of calm concord and harmony, on August 31st 2011, as Israel’s best footballer became an Arsenal player. I have been few things for longer than I have been a Zionist, in one way or another, but a love of Arsenal predates my Zionism by some years. And here was the moment where these two poles of my existence aligned and finally complemented each other (perhaps going some way to compensate for the stress incurred by my beloved club’s decision to accept the national airline carrier of an Arab country hostile to Israel as its shirt sponsor and even hand over stadium naming rights, all for a mere £100 million!) An Israeli playing for my team! Granted, you are still officially a Chelsea player, only on loan to Arsenal until the end of the season, which has now arrived, leaving your future presently undecided. But what place do legal definitions have when we are talking about the emotions of the football fan? A footballer is owned by the fans that let him into their hearts. And right now, it is Arsenal that own Yossi Benayoun.
But the season didn’t quite go to plan, neither for you nor for us. It has been a very long, roller coaster season full of frustrating disappointments. You spent much of the season as a fringe squad player sitting on the bench, and we spent nine months looking up at our arch rivals Tottenham, enjoying their most successful league campaign in recent memory, as we floundered in mid table obscurity for much of the season. Perhaps we both have suffered from delusions of grandeur, but I can’t help thinking you held yourself with so much more grace than most Arsenal fans throughout the season.
You are a footballing superstar. You have achieved more success than any other Israeli footballer in history. You are also an attacking midfielder with silky smooth skills and a propensity for scoring goals. Your auspicious career has taken you to some of the largest clubs in Europe. In the world of the multi-million dollar salaried sports stars, these things would naturally lead to conceit, arrogance and a swagger seen by so many of your professional colleagues. Just take a look at the behavior of some of those Manchester City players who are now crowned champions of English football! But the word ‘entitlement’ does not seem to be in your vocabulary.
Perhaps that is because you are a Jew striving to succeed in a non-Jewish world. However, you are more than filling the boots of the previous owner of the title “Best Israeli Footballer”, who despite being less accomplished, and despite experiencing less success both in Israel and abroad, still managed to walk with that familiar swagger of the Rock-Star-Footballer (amusingly also spending some of his career with Manchester City, but in a very different era.)
Perhaps it is because you grew up the child of Moroccan immigrants in the peripheral and poor development town of Dimona, in an Israel where the power and riches lay in the Ashkenazi center of the country. Perhaps it is because you learnt how to overcome adversity the hard way, resurrecting your career after turning your back on the famous Ajax Academy and a professional contract, aged just 16, to return home to the more comfortable surroundings of Hapoel Be’er Sheva.
Or perhaps you are just more grounded than your average football star (or fan for that matter.) In a moment of inspiring genius this season, during a player’s Twitter Takeover of Arsenal’s twitter account, in response to a fan’s question “After football what is the most important thing in your life?” you responded “before football comes my family”. For me too Yossi. (Although my wife sometimes isn’t sure.)
Despite the marginal role you played in our season, and aside from a few quotes expressing your feelings of frustration sitting on the bench (not one to accept a fat check without playing), there was no sulking, no tantrums, no tension between you and your team mates or the management of the club. You were the consummate professional. When you were given the chance to play you grabbed it with both hands and showed passion for the game and for the team, and gave 100% effort. Despite your “advancing age” (in footballing years of course, which are only slightly longer than dog years), your attitude, work rate, and work ethic was tremendous. Inspiring in fact. Which other skillfull attacking midfielder is willing to defend like you do. A box-to-box footballer. No doubt this was not lost on the younger members of the squad, and it was not lost on the fans. Proof of that was found in my Twitter feed following the climax to our season last Sunday, full of tweets from Arsenal fans, bloggers and opinion makers, genuine unbiased Arsenal fans, not clouded by their Zionism like I am, declaring their gratitude and appreciation for everything you have given to the club this year.
So this past Sunday, as my almost 5 year old son in his Benayoun #30 Arsenal shirt sat next to his father (sadly also wearing his Benayoun #30 Arsenal shirt) watching you lead the boys to 3rd in the league, guaranteeing Champions League football for another year, and bragging rights in North London for at least one more year (17th straight!) I reflected on the wise choice we had both made to accept you as our role model.
Other classic twitter questions and answers from Yossi:
Q: What makes you angry when you drive?
A: In England I don’t get angry that much because they are very polite on the road. But in Israel I get angry all the time.
Q: Is English food better than Israeli food?
A: In two words – no chance.