Ohana, Eli : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Ohana, Eli

Ohana became a cultural icon in Israel, and helped lead the ultra-nationalistic club Betar Jerusalem to its first championship. In the process, he became a symbol of the oriental right-wing classes. Outspoken in his political opinions, Eli is expected to run for political office someday.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Feb. 1, 1964

Career Highlights:
Introduced into the Betar Jerusalem senior team at the age of 13, Ohana found his way onto a good team that included Uri Malmilian and Danny Nuiman. The addition of Ohana turned the team into one of the best in Israel as the the club captured the 1985 and 1986 State Cups. Ohana burst onto the national scene the following year and had a terrific 1986-87 season. Eli excelled as Betar won their first-ever Israel League championship, and Ohana firmly established himself as the best player in the country at the time.

The elite European clubs began to take notice of Ohana's skill, and Belgian club Mechlen landed him. With Eli as the undisputed star of the team, the underdog Mechlen won the 1989 European Cup Winners Cup title. The 1-0 final win over Ajax Amsterdam was one of the crowning moments of Belgian soccer. Eli made the assist in the final, and scored many valuable goals along the way.

It was, however, a certain moment in 1990 that immortalized Ohana in Israeli hearts and minds. That year, Israel faced Australia in a crucial match to decide qualification for the World Cup playoff decider. Australian coach Frank Aruck made several anti-Semitic remarks in an inerview before the match. In the game itself, Ohana finessed two defenders, then with an inspired move, completely fooled the Aussie goalie, who fell helplessly as Eli rolled the ball into the net. Ohana then ran straight over to the racist coach, pointing proudly to the Star of David on his shirt. Israel had won on Australian ground.

In 1991, Ohana's boyhood team fell on hard times financially. Ohana returned to Jerusalem from Braga in Portugal to save the day. In Eli's first return season with his old club, Betar won promotion and the next year, they stunned the league by winning the title. Ohana was voted "Sportsman of the Year" and was practically deified by Betar fans. Ohana then captained the club to an excellent 1996-97 season. Betar won the championship and Eli was named "Player of the Year." An injury forced him to play only a small part in the 1997-98 title campaign, and he was forced to retire.

After his playing career was cut short, Ohana was appointed Betar Jerusalem coach, but remained with the club for only a short time. He then tried his hand at coaching B'nei Yehuda, but the team was relegated. Following a brief tenure as Maccabi Petah Tikva coach, Ohana returned to B'nei Yehuda, and earned them a promotion to the Premier Division. In addition to his role as B'nei Yehuda coach, Ohana is also a popular sports broadcaster.

Eli made history in 2003 by bringing the first-ever Israeli-Arab player to B'nei Yehuda, Salah Hasarma, an excellent left side defender. Ohana kept the side stable and finished in 10th place, one spot over the dreaded red line.

On May 19, 2003, Betar Jerusalem announced that Ohana had been re-signed after they offered him an improved contract. Eli had returned to the stomping ground of his youth, to coach Betar Jerusalem in 2003-04. He found a very limited squad, based on veterans in the twilight of their career and promising youngsters with no top league experience. The team finished ninth and never looked like relegation material. Betar played attractive soccer throughout the campaign and Ohana helped develop young talent like Maor Melikson and Shlomi Arbeitman. The team got an unexpected boost from mid-season signing of Avi Nimni. Eli will coach Jerusalem in the 2004-05 season as well.

Jerusalem, Israel

Career Dates:
Played: 1984-1998

Coach: 1999-


Physical description:
5"9, 176 lbs.

Career Statistics:
17 goals in 51 international appearances

127 goals in 284 top class Israeli games

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