Premier League Career: West Ham United (2005-2007, 2013), Liverpool FC (2007-2010), Chelsea (2010-2011, 2012), Arsenal (2011-2012)
A former captain of the Israel international team, Yossi Benayoun was still playing very recently back in his homeland, having returned to Beitar Jerusalem. In April 2019, he decided to announce his retirement from professional football. In regards to his time on these shores, his most productive spell was under Rafa Benitez’s management at Liverpool FC, spending three years at Anfield and ending as a Premier League runner-up in 2009. He also had two stints at West Ham United, along with time with other London giants, Chelsea and Arsenal.
An attacking midfielder whose best role was often just behind the main forward, Benayoun started his career with Hapoel Be’er Sheva. Dutch superpower Ajax was impressed and offered him a trial, followed by a four-year professional contract offer in 1996. However, Benayoun’s family just couldn’t settle in Amsterdam so he turned the offer down and headed back to Israel.
Promoted to the Hapoel Be’er Sheva first-team aged just 16, he experienced relegation on the final weekend of his first season in top-flight football despite victory over Maccabi Haifa where he’d scored an injury-time penalty. Other results had already condemned Hapoel to the drop and he broke down in floods of tears when hearing the news. He moved swiftly to Maccabi Haifa, scoring 55 goals in 130 appearances for them, winning back-to-back Israeli championships under Avram Grant’s reign and in 2001, he was voted as the league’s Most Valuable Player.
In 2002, he moved to Racing Santander in La Liga, scoring 21 times in 101 appearances for the club. His best game in Spain came in 2005 when he scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 away victory over Deportivo La Coruna. At the end of the season, it was a surprise to see Racing make him available for transfer and after rejecting a move to CSKA Moscow, Yossi switched to English football. Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool FC were all rumoured to be interested but Benayoun eventually moved to newly-promoted West Ham United for £2.5 million.
He made his Premier League debut on the opening day of the 2005-2006 season against Blackburn Rovers and scored his first Hammers goal a month later in a 4-0 triumph over Aston Villa. Benayoun impressed in his debut season, finishing with five goals, including the matchwinner on the final day against Tottenham Hotspur that destroyed their hopes of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. The season ended in agony though for Benayoun, missing out on winning the FA Cup as he was part of the West Ham 2006 squad that lost on penalties to Liverpool FC.
His second season at Upton Park was less successful but he still was a regular in a team that avoided relegation on the last day thanks to the goals of Carlos Tevez. At the end of the season, he verbally agreed a contract extension with the Hammers before controversially joining Liverpool FC less than two months later for £5 million.
Benayoun’s first season on Merseyside was impressive enough – scoring 11 goals in all competitions including hat-tricks against Besiktas in the UEFA Champions League and non-league Havant & Waterlooville in the FA Cup. In 2008-2009, Benayoun came up with some crucial goals including a winning header to beat Real Madrid in the first leg of the Reds’ round-of-16 tie. The Israeli, who switched squad numbers to his preferred no.15 jersey following Peter Crouch’s summer departure to Portsmouth, had a say in the Premier League title race too. He scored a dramatic winner in the 94th minute against Fulham in April and also scored twice in the 4-4 thriller later in the month with Arsenal. Liverpool FC came within four points of winning the title.
The highlight of Yossi’s 2009-2010 season was a maiden Premier League hat-trick in the 4-0 win over Burnley at Anfield, making him the only player to score hat-tricks for the club in the Premier League, UEFA Champions League and FA Cup. He left Merseyside that summer following Rafa Benitez’s departure and joined reigning champions Chelsea for £5.5 million. He scored on his away debut in a 6-0 drubbing of Wigan Athletic but his debut season in west London was wrecked by a ruptured Achilles, sustained in a League Cup defeat to Newcastle United in September. It kept him on the sidelines for almost seven months.
With limited opportunities at Chelsea, Benayoun moved on-loan to Arsenal on August transfer deadline day in 2011. He made 19 appearances for the Gunners, scoring four goals including crucial strikes in away wins over Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers. A return to West Ham beckoned on-loan in 2012-2013 but it wasn’t a successful period. Just six appearances and a ligament injury meant the season-long loan deal was cut short and an early return to Chelsea made just before Christmas 2012.
He went to Queens Park Rangers in the Championship and played a part in the club winning promotion back to the Premier League in 2014 but his English top-flight days were over. Yossi would ultimately return to Maccabi Haifa in June 2014 and since then, has moved about in his homeland, experiencing spells with Maccabi Tel Aviv, Beitar Jerusalem and Maccabi Petah Tikva before returning to Beitar once again at the start of this calendar year.
After announcing his decision to stop playing in April 2019 on his Instagram account, it will be interesting to see what Yossi does next. However, he was a great ambassador for his country and represented all of his Premier League clubs with dignity and delight.