History In Sport

From Egypt to Liverpool: 67 years since the birth of Avi Cohen

Avi Cohen, who was born today 67 years ago, was the first Israeli player in the English league, he played for the great Liverpool. He spent most of his career at Maccabi Tel Aviv where he became a legend.

Avi Cohen with Uri Malmilian (Photo: Moshe Shai, Flash90.)

When you think of an Israeli in the English league, you think of Manor Solomon in Tottenham, of Yossi Benyon in a Liverpool uniform beating Real Madrid, of Ronnie Rosenthal and the big miss on the side of the championship. All of these are attacking players who naturally grab more headlines, but the first to come from the Holy Land to the Kingdom was a defender, Avi Cohen who was born today before 67 and who came to the great Liverpool of the 80's.

Cohen was born in Egypt on November 14, 1956 (1956) only a week after Operation Kadesh, his father Moshe Cohen served as the coach of the Maccabi Cairo basketball team, a basketball team of Egyptian Jews that existed from the 1930s to the 1950s. The basketball team was my father's uncle and his father's twin brother Edward Cohen.

Following Operation Kadesh, the Egyptian authorities began to harass the country's Jews, Maccabi Cairo disbanded and its people immigrated to Israel, among them the Cohen family. Some of the members of the team were among the founders of Hapoel Be'er Sheva's basketball team. The Cohen family wandered between Nahariyya and Tel Aviv, until in 1962, when Avi Cohen was six years old, the family settled in the Shikma neighborhood in Ramat Gan.

Avi Cohen became an idol with dizzying speed

At that time, the children's department of Maccabi Tel Aviv trained in the national park in Ramat Gan, and Cohen joined them in 1965 at the age of nine. In the 1973/74 season, before he turned 18, he moved up to the senior team of the yellow club, and quickly became a leader in the club, playing mostly as a back defender. With great technique and dizzying speed, he quickly entered the hearts of the fans in Kiryat Shalom.

Here is a short excerpt from an article about him in the newspaper: "The passport, which was published only three months ago, already looks like an empty passenger's passport for everything. This is the passport of the rising star of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Avraham Cohen. In two months he will be twenty years old. He is a soldier In regular service, only in the middle of last season, he start racing toward glory. He did it with dizzying speed, just like he does with the ball when he rescues his team from an embarrassing situation, in a period of time he became an idol."

Kenny Dalglish (Photo: Shutterstock)

Together with him, the team won the double in the 1976/77 season, and the championship two years later. In the second championship season, he scored a great goal in the derby against Hapoel Tel Aviv. Kicked out of the air in the pouring rain by Moshe Schweitzer's assist. The good ability did not disappear from the eyes of the world, and he was invited to trials in Liverpool, the European champion in 1977 and 1978 starring Kenny Dalglish.

He played on Yom Kippur and got injured

Liverpool decided to buy Avi Cohen for 450,000 dollars, his first game for the team was against Leeds United, and his debut game at Anfield, Liverpool's home stadium, was also the championship-winning game in 1979/80, he scored an own goal but equalized with a goal for the reds. Liverpool won 1:4 and won their 12th championship.

Another memorable own goal was at the beginning of the following season, when Cohen, who was fighting for a place in the lineup against Alan Kennedy for the left-back position, discovered that one of the league games in which he was scheduled to play was on Yom Kippur. He decided not to give up the opportunity in the team and desecrated the holy day, which caused a great uproar in Israel. When he came on to play in front of a 24,085 audience against Southampton. In that game, Cohen was directly responsible for one of his team's goals and was even injured.

Alan Kennedy, competing with Avi Cohen for a place in the lineup (Photo: Jarvin, Wikimedia.)

In 2010, a few months before his death, he said in an interview with One: "I was wrong. I didn't understand what I was doing then. At that time, I was in the Liverpool squad and I was afraid of losing my place, so I decided to play." Not many people know, but I fasted and played. It was very difficult, I had great pangs of conscience in this game and today, in retrospect, I am sorry and repent."

Avi Cohen, chairman of the Israel Football Players Association

In the same season in 1980/81, Avi Cohen excelled in the team and participated in all the team's games in the European Champions Cup, but did not participate in the semi-finals and the final against Real Madrid in which the team won its third European Championship when Alan Kennedy, competing against Cohen for the place in the team, scored the winning goal.

In the 1981/82 season, Maccabi Tel Aviv was defeated 0:6 by Maccabi Netanya, and the leaders of the team pressured Cohen to return to Israel. Cohen did return to the team he grew up in, for 180,000 paid to Liverpool. He played in Tel Aviv for five years, during which time he was one of the founders of the Israel Football Players Association, and was its first chairman. He led many revolutions, including the recognition of footballers as employees and the removal of the salary cap.

The late Avi Cohen (Photo: Reuven Fritzi, Wikimedia.)

In 1987, his Liverpool teammate Graeme Souness, who became the coach of the Scottish Glasgow Rangers, offered to sign with him. Cohen relented and signed for two years, but his family did not acclimatize in Glasgow and he participated in only 15 games in the first year, which led to the decision to return to Maccabi Tel Aviv. In his second term on the team, he received the nickname "The Tel Avivi", because of the arrival of Avi Cohen from Jerusalem to the team.

Killed in a car accident in 2010

In 1990 he announced his retirement from football and joined Maccabi Netanya, as Mordechai Spiegler's assistant coach in the 1991/1992 season he played three games in the Netanya uniform which were the last three games of his career. During his career, he played in the Israel national team uniform in 64 games over 12 years. Throughout his years of training, he was unable to leave a mark like in his playing career. In 1998, he was the commentator in the notorious game of shoelaces, when he commented that Hapoel Beit She'an did not make any effort.

In April 2005, he was again elected to the position of chairman of the Israel Football Players Association, where he served until his death. In 2008, he participated in the program "Dancing with the Stars". He participated in the program for the last time the day before his death.

The late Avi Cohen (Photo: Moshe Shai, Flash90.)

On December 20, 2010, Cohen was riding a scooter close to the stock exchange complex in Ramat Gan when a commercial vehicle hit him. He was mortally wounded and rushed to Ichilov Hospital. Nine days later he was pronounced dead. He was buried in the Morasha cemetery in Ramat HaSharon, his funeral was attended by thousands.

Liverpool and all of Israeli football gave him a minute of applause at the beginning of the games that followed. In July 2011, the Ministry of Culture and Sports established the Avi Cohen National Amateur League. On March 6, 2012, the Avi Cohen Youth Academy was inaugurated at the Kiryat Shalom training complex, the training complex of Maccabi Tel Aviv, The team in which he became a legend.

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