Premier League Career: Southampton (1996-1997), West Ham United (1997-1999), Manchester City (2002-2003), Portsmouth (2004-2005)
Having made 78 international appearances for Israel across a 12-year career for his country, Eyal Berkovic is often considered as one of his nation’s greatest-ever players. Berkovic played for four Premier League clubs during his career and was most productive for West Ham United, helping the Hammers to a fifth place finish in 1998-1999. He also won promotion to the top-flight with Blackburn Rovers in 2001.
Eyal started his career at Maccabi Haifa in 1989 and remained at the club for seven years. During that time, Maccabi Haifa were a regular title contender in Israel and won the championship in both 1991 and 1994. His strong influence on their squad was quickly noted by his country who capped him for the first time in 1992. Although Israel failed to qualify for a major tournament during his international years, Eyal went on to win 78 caps before retiring from duty in 2004. He scored nine times.
English football was waiting for him at the start of 1996-1997 when Graeme Souness took him to Southampton on a season-long loan deal. He made 28 appearances for the Saints and scored four times. Berkovic’s best game in a Southampton shirt definitely came in the amazing 6-3 victory over Manchester United. He scored twice and set-up three goals for his teammates, Egil Ostenstad and Matt Le Tissier.
Souness’ summer departure meant Berkovic didn’t complete a permanent transfer to The Dell. Instead, he moved permanently to West Ham United for £1.75 million in the summer of 1997. On his home debut, Berkovic immediately became a big hit by scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 success against Tottenham Hotspur – a club West Ham have always enjoyed beating during the Premier League Years.
Berkovic was the perfect creator for John Hartson, who enjoyed his best-ever Premier League scoring season in 1997-1998, helped by Berkovic often being able to pick out the tall striker with key passes and telling crosses. However, the relationship off-the-pitch wasn’t so sweet between the pair. There was an ugly training ground bust-up early in the 1998-1999 season. After a tasty tackle in a routine training drill by the Israeli, Hartson took exception to it and kicked Berkovic in the face. Captured on camera, it was an awful moment for manager Harry Redknapp to witness. Hartson was banned for three games and fined £20,000 for the incident.
He would move to Wimbledon in January 1999 and before the year was out, Berkovic also moved on. He went to experience Scottish football with Celtic. Signed by John Barnes, Berkovic scored nine league goals in 32 appearances but was unable to achieve the rapport he’d enjoyed with supporters at his previous clubs. It was a difficult time in his career and he was subjected to religious taunts by Hearts supporters during a match between the teams at Tynecastle in December 1999.
Discarded by Martin O’Neill when he became Celtic boss, Berkovic moved back to England, reuniting with Souness at Blackburn Rovers who signed him on-loan. Two goals against Queens Park Rangers and Grimsby Town in his 11 appearances for the club helped Blackburn achieve promotion back to the top-flight, two years after their relegation. However, he stayed in the First Division and was signed permanently in July 2001 by Kevin Keegan for Manchester City, who were coming down in Blackburn’s place.
He scored on his debut in a 3-0 home victory against Watford and played a key role in helping City regain their Premier League status with a record 108 goals and 99 points gathered on their way to the title. He linked up well with Ali Benarbia in a 3-5-2 formation that seemed to suit Keegan’s side very well. That form continued into the 2002-2003 season as Manchester City finished ninth in their last-ever season playing at Maine Road. Berkovic was voted Manchester City’s Player of the Season in the club’s official magazine and was instrumental in their first victory in 13 years over city rivals Manchester United in November 2002, playing some role in two of the three goals the Citizens scored in a 3-1 victory.
Competition for places increased in 2003-2004 with the arrival of Steve McManaman and Claudio Reyna plus the growing emergence of Shaun Wright-Phillips. Berkovic fell out with Keegan and in January 2004, was sold to newly-promoted Portsmouth for £500,000. In his first game for Pompey, he helped them beat of all clubs, Manchester City 4-2 at Fratton Park. A few weeks later, he netted his first goal in a 4-3 loss at Tottenham and was one of the driving forces towards Portsmouth’s survival in their maiden Premier League campaign.
The move to the south coast saw him link up again with his manager at West Ham, Harry Redknapp but he was unable to hold down a starting place in 2004-2005, despite an early season goal in the 4-3 win over Fulham. He left Portsmouth and the Premier League in January 2005, signing for Maccabi Tel-Aviv after a planned return to Maccabi Haifa was rejected. He was unable to win any more silverware and in May 2006, announced his retirement from professional football.
He moved into management straight after retirement but struggled to hold down decent relations with his owners, both at Maccabi Netanya and Hapoel Tel-Aviv. So in May 2015, Berkovic moved into an ownership role himself. He is now chairman of Hapoel Rishon LeZion, a club in the Israeli Second Division.