Israel’s national soccer team manager Eli Gutman dropped team captain Yossi Benayoun from the squad ahead of back-to-back World Cup European group F qualifiers against Luxembourg this week and next week.
Gutman made the announcement Saturday. He reportedly phoned Benayoun, whose appearances for West Ham United have been limited this season, to tell him in advance. The move reflects Gutman’s stated policy of not including players who don’t play regularly for their club team.
The 32-year-old former Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal attacking midfielder is widely considered one of Israel’s all-time greatest soccer players. But his career seems to be on the wane. He did not feature in Saturday’s defeat of West Ham by London rivals Arsenal, and has not featured prominently since joining West Ham this season.
Benayoun played for Arsenal last season on a loan spell, while still officially a Chelsea player, and contributed several crucial goals and impressive performances to The Gunners’ moderately successful season, which ended with automatic qualification to the Champions League.
Israel’s World Cup qualifying campaign got off to a poor start last month as it suffered a crushing 4-0 home defeat to Russia, following a listless 0-0 draw away to Azerbaijan, considered the group’s weakest team. That leaves Israel out of the running for a spot in the 2016 Finals, to be played in Rio de Janeiro.
Another notable player left out of the squad ahead of Friday’s game at Luxembourg’s national stadium, Stade Josy Barthel, is the center back Tal Ben Haim, currently a free agent. The return leg is to be held at the Ramat Gan Stadium four days later.