Few new recruits have adapted to the pace of the English Premiership this season as well as Israeli international Yossi Benayoun. The slender attacking midfielder has been a major force behind West Ham United FC's bright start on their return to the top flight, and the €3.6m paid to Real Racing Club Santander for the 25-year-old in July already looks to be among the bargains of the season. Benayoun gives uefa.com his first impressions of life in the Premiership and the challenge of following in the footsteps of compatriot Eyal Berkovic at Upton Park.
uefa.com: How big a step is moving to the Premiership?
Yossi Benayoun: I don't know, but it's a different step - different football, different culture. I enjoy myself a lot more. It's a different experience to the Spanish league. There is no comparison as far as the pace and physique between the two leagues is concerned. The level in England is much higher.
You can skip past one player and suddenly someone else dives in and chucks you in the stand. That doesn't happen in Spain.
uefa.com: Why did you choose West Ham?
Benayoun: My agent and close family all knew from the outset West Ham was my priority. After meeting with several people it proved to me I needed to follow my gut feeling. I knew at West Ham I would enjoy it a lot more and get a more central role. When West Ham thought I was going to sign for Bolton [Wanderers FC], Alan Pardew [the West Ham manager] called me and said: "I wish you all the best of luck at Bolton but if there is still something that can be done, we're still open and would love to have you here." I told him I hadn’t made up my mind. He was more than happy and said: “Great, so you must come down to see us.”
uefa.com: How are you enjoying life at West Ham?
Benayoun: There are already excellent relationships here as it's a brilliant bunch of lads and early on many friendships were formed. I'm more connected to Teddy Sheringham than the rest, from the moment I set foot here, he stepped over and immediately gave me a warm welcome, gave me his mobile number and invited me over to his place a few times. When training is hard, he always cheers me up and gives me a few tips about the English league such as when to lower the tempo in training. He even came up to me once and said: "Reserve yourself a bit today because tomorrow's game will be a lot tougher." These things help a lot especially, hearing them from such a respected professional as Teddy.
uefa.com: Which players did you get on with in Spain?
Benayoun: After scoring against Real [Madrid CF], Raúl [González] came up to me and said: "Well done, excellent game." I'm still in touch with Samuel Eto'o at [FC] Barcelona. We used to chat before and after games and he was always complimenting me saying well done and keep at it.
uefa.com: What do you make of English fans?
Benayoun: It's amazing; you get full support until the 90th minute. At Santander we had a smaller stadium, the average was 12,000 and 20,000 for the big teams. There would be no cheering and no chanting, they just turned up to watch the game. Here you feel like they live the game. You feel it from moment it starts.
Fans here are football crazy, all over England. You jump for a header and they’re out of their seats. It's an entire culture.
uefa.com: How hard is following in the footsteps of Eyal Berkovic?
Benayoun: I speak to him a lot. Eyal helps me out and gives me advice which helped me adjust here quickly. His name crops up as he played here for two years and left a good impression. They all expect me to do the same things. It's a great honour and I hope to follow in his footsteps. If I can achieve what he did and play for nine seasons in Europe, I’ll be delighted.
uefa.com: Are West Ham a stepping stone to a bigger club?
Benayoun: On the contrary, I really enjoy every moment here and the facilities are great. I love focusing on the present. You never know what might happen next, they might not want me any more. You have to work hard to succeed and not think too far ahead. Let me do a job here, enjoy every moment, leave the talking to someone else.
uefa.com: How disappointed are you to have missed the FIFA World Cup despite Israel completing qualifying unbeaten?
Benayoun: To be in the World Cup is every player's dream, an amazing football experience in itself. Israel doesn't get there every day, but now we will have to wait another four years.
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