Julian Reinhard wants to play for Manchester United. Everyone has a dream, but Reinhard's starts out in Ramat Gan of all places.
The 23-year-old German, who made his Israeli Premier League debut Monday night in Hakoah Ramat Gan's 3-3 draw against Maccabi Haifa, is full of ambition, but knows exactly where he has landed and what the implications are for his career.
So what exactly causes a goalkeeper to make the switch from the Bundesliga to the Israeli Premier League? The answer is simple - a desire to play. After five years on the bench at SC Freiburg, Reinhard had enough and when the offer from Hakoah came, he headed to Ramat Gan without hesitation.
Two seasons ago Reinhard started in 12 games for his team, including in a 1-0 defeat against Bayern Munich that drew praises from the German press and marked him as the team's future first-choice 'keeper.
However four days after the match against Bayern the teams met again in the German Cup and this time Reinhard picked the ball out out of the net seven times and received a hammering from the press, a trauma he never recovered from. The following season Reinhard dropped to third in the pecking order at Freiburg.
"Things were very frustrating for me in Freiburg," recalls Reinhard. "I trained hard and I felt I was improving all the time, but the coach didn't see that. I didn't get the feedback I expected, but that's the way it is in soccer."
Reinhard was born to German parents in the canton of Schaffhausen in the northern-most province of Switzerland. When his parents returned to Germany, he joined Freiburg's youth team and continued up to the senior side where his progress was blocked on the bench.
"I couldn't sit on the bench anymore. It was clear to me that in Germany it would be hard for me to find a team that I could play for, especially in the first division. There are only 18 first team jerseys available and it didn't look to me as if I was about to get one of them," says Reinhard, the first German to appear for an Israeli team.
So Reinhard decided to cast his net outside of Germany. The connection with Israel was made via Moshe Ohayon, an Israeli striker playing in Switzerland.
"I spoke with an agent close to Ohayon and he told me about Israel. I consulted with Michael Ancic, who plays for Freiburg and appeared in the past for Hapoel Haifa. He told me his time in Israel was the best of his career. I have to say, he was very convincing."
A week-long trial was enough to convince Ramat Gan coach Uri Malmilian that Reinhard was a suitable replacement for Nir Rahmin, the team's first choice 'keeper whose season was cut short by injury.
"I could have stayed in Germany and remained on the bench at Freiburg or perhaps found myself a place as a first choice 'keeper for a third division team, but I wanted to play. I see the move to Ramat Gan as a step forward. If I continue to sit on the bench, then I will stand no chance of joining a big team," says Reinhard.
"I'm very satisfied with Hakoah. The atmosphere in Israel is very warm and people are always trying to help," he says of his acclimatization here. On the professional side, Reinhard has a surprising revelation. "I was stunned to find out that Hakoah's goalkeeping coach Shimon Mualem holds training sessions very similar to those we had in Germany and they are in fact of a higher standard. I am sure that I will progress here and that when I look back, I will thank Uri and Shimon for what they have given me."
One thing Reinhard doesn't want to talk about is being a German in Israel.
"I am here to play soccer, not to indulge in politics or history. I have been received very well here and no one has said anything to me about being German. On the contrary, people have reacted positively," Reinhard says.
"I have not heard a single negative word. If someone has a problem with me, they will have to solve it with themselves because it does not bother me that I am a German and it certainly doesn't bother me that I am in Israel. On the contrary."
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