Israel's father figure still going strong

"I enjoy every match like it's my first day in the job," said Israel Under-21 team manager, Eli Rozen, now in his 16th year in the job but showing no signs of letting up.

Eli Rozen has been Israel Under-21 team manager for 16 years and counting
Eli Rozen has been Israel Under-21 team manager for 16 years and counting ©

Eli Rozen has seen it all in his 16 years as Israel Under-21 team manager but he still relishes his role as a father figure to the next generation and there is no sign of him stopping just yet.

Having taken charge of the Israel Under-16 team in 1991 before moving into his current role six years later, Rozen has seen some of Israel's finest come through the ranks and go on to enjoy prosperous careers. The 59-year-old coached current boss Guy Luzon during his time at Maccabi Petach-Tikva FC and was also part of the management staff at Israel's only previous U21 final tournament appearance, in the Netherlands in 2007. So he is better placed than most to comment on generations past and present.

"I enjoy every match like it's my first day in the job," he said. "I got addicted to football through coaching and I haven't been able to stop ever since. Trying to coach a player from scratch and being involved in so many big tournaments and events are the things that give me the strength to go on.

"I have seen many players start from the bottom. Guy Luzon was just a young kid when I first coached him. I saw most of Israel's elite players when they were very young and you could immediately see the talent in the likes of Yossi Benayoun, Etay Shechter, Beram Kayal and Rami Gershon."

Rozen did not hesitate when asked about the favourite point of his career, and the fact that the star of that vintage is now in the twilight of his career is testament to Rozen's longevity. "My greatest moment was coming third at the Under-16s in 1996," he said, recalling the last-gasp 3-2 victory against Greece in the third-placed play-off in Austria. "Yossi Benayoun was our key player and he is over 30 now.

"In each and every game that I hear the national anthem I'm glad I can be a part of it and represent our country. I don't have sad moments because I keep everything in perspective and remember that it's football. We have to get the most out of dealing with something you love so much."

With his wealth of experience it is understandable that Ruzon is seen in a paternal role by many of the current crop. "We have been a family for the last three years and I feel like their dad," he said. "We are closer than the senior team because it's basically the same squad playing football together for three years. We are a close family and all the squad get on well together."

Calm and composed regardless of the situation, Rozen is well set to impart his knowledge for many years to come.