The person behind Maccabi Haifa goalkeeper Nir Davidovich's success is an elderly gentleman who has accompanied the team to every game since the `keeper joined the club's youth team. His name is Benny Davidovich, and he is Nir's father.
When soccer fathers are mentioned, the names that usually come to mind are figures like Ze'ev Berkovic or Dudu Benayoun. But Benny Davidovich is a different kind of soccer father altogether. He does not impose himself on his son or rub shoulders with player agents, he simply provides support, love, a taxi service ("since Nir was 10, I have been his driver"), and most important of all - education.
The elder Davidovich is very proud that he made sure Nir received an education. When Nir did not want to take his matriculation exams, Benny drew the line - no rides, no soccer - because there are more important things in life. Nir may have complained, but he received his matriculation and went on to become a great keeper.
Benny is going on 74 years old, while Nir will be 27 next month. Benny is a Holocaust survivor who saw horrors he does not talk about easily. He came to Israel as an illegal immigrant during the British mandate, and spent time in British camps in Cyprus. He was a goalkeeper for Maccabi Haifa, served for many years in the police force. But for a long time, his biggest endeavor has been Nir. Benny, who goes to every one of Nir's games, takes things to heart - sometimes too much.
Thursday's game in Valencia was no different. Every Spanish attack or mistake by the Haifa defense sent Benny's pulse racing. Every save pulled off by Nir brought an enormous sigh of relief.
At the end of the day, after Nir shut out one of Spanish soccer's deadliest strike forces with a heroic display of goalkeeping, all the Haifa officials, without exception, went over to hug papa Davidovich.
But like his son, Benny remains modest. He does not use his connections to get into the dressing room after the game, and only had a chance to see Nir the following morning at the airport.
Before boarding the plane back home, Benny asked me for the Spanish newspapers with pictures of Nir and headlines praising his performance. After Thursday's game, Papa Davidovich has lots of work to do on the family album.
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