Israel's Premier League entered its final straight at the weekend, with the top flight splitting in three and each team having their points tally halved ahead of their last five games of the season.
As the table was adjusted for the championship run-in, so Maccabi Haifa FC had their lead over Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC cut to three points, prefacing a close contest for the Ligat Ha'Al crown. The two clubs' top scorers are engaged in a similarly intriguing fight for supremacy: Haifa's Shlomi Arbeitman has 26 league goals while Tel-Aviv's Etey Shechter has 22.
Yet if Arbeitman has been the story of the season with 32 strikes in all competitions, Shechter has nonetheless enhanced his maverick reputation enormously. Born in Ramat Yishai, a small town north of Haifa, Shechter's exploits with junior side Emek-Yizrael were so impressive that Hapoel Nazareth Ilit FC bought the whole club in order to get him.
Shechter made his league debut for Nazareth Ilit in the 2005/06 campaign, although the teenager's three goals in 26 matches could not save his team from relegation. Not that Shechter went down with them – instead joining his current coach Eli Gutman at Maccabi Netanya FC and scoring seven as Netanya finished runners-up in 2006/07.
His form was equally eye-catching under Reuven Atar in 2007/08, but the forward found Lothar Matthäus harder to please the following season. "He achieved everything in football as a player, but as a coach we simply didn't get on," explained Shechter, who has been capped four times by Israel in the last 12 months. Matthäus retorted: "He is a joker with the concentration span of a child, yet he has the potential to play in the Bundesliga one day."
Reunited with Gutman – nicknamed 'The German' for his disciplined approach – at Tel-Aviv last summer, the 23-year-old Shechter is aiming even higher than Germany's top tier. "My dream is one day to receive a square ball from Lionel Messi and tap it home," he said. "Is that realistic? Who knows. It is a dream, my dream, and anything can happen."
The FC Barcelona scouts have not yet made themselves known to Shechter, but having scored twice in the UEFA Europa League group stage, he has alerted Europe to his talent. Moreover, his two goals in a 4-2 derby win against Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC on his birthday in February should at least ensure that he leaves Hapoel as a legend whatever else happens.
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