Avi Cohen, First Israeli to Play in England, Critically Hurt in Crash

Former Liverpool, Rangers and Israel defender fighting for his life.

Avi Cohen, the first Israeli soccer player to ply his trade in England, was critically hurt yesterday in a traffic accident in Ramat Gan. Police say the circumstances of the accident are still being investigated. Cohen was riding his motorcycle when reportedly hit by a car near the Diamond Exchange.

Within minutes of the accident, a Magen David Adom emergency team was on the scene to give Cohen first aid, after which he was rushed to nearby Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. "He had a serious head injury, unfortunately it did not look good ... we found him lying in the road," paramedic Eli Bir told Channel 5.

A spokesman for the hospital said that "when Cohen arrived at the hospital, he was in a critical condition. He was taken into surgery immediately and from there to intensive care."

Cohen reportedly underwent an operation lasting five hours.

Cohen's son, Bolton Wanderers midfielder Tamir Cohen, was contacted by relatives and given permission by his club to fly back from England to be by his father's bedside.

All-time great

Cohen, 54, is considered one of the greatest Israeli soccer players of all time. He was born in Cairo and began his career with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 1975. Within a year was a regular member of the Israeli national team. He quickly caught the eye of several clubs, including Liverpool, which, at the time, was the dominant force in English soccer.

In 1979, he joined the Reds for a fee of $450,000, becoming the first Israeli to play for an English team.

Cohen's greatest moment in a Liverpool shirt came on September 25, 1979, when he was selected in the starting 11 for his team's game against Aston Villa. The Reds, who were reigning league champions at the time, needed to win to retain their title - and things looked to be going according to plan when they took an early lead. Just before half time, however, Cohen scored an own goal to level the score.

But five minutes after the restart, he made amends by scoring his side's second goal. Liverpool went on to win 4-1 and the championship remained on Merseyside.

The next season - his last in England - Cohen was part of the Liverpool squad that won the European Cup, before returning to Maccabi Tel Aviv.

After a brief period in Scotland, where he played 15 games for Glasgow Rangers, Cohen returned to Maccabi for a third spell, before retiring as a player in 1990. He has since coached six teams and, for the past five years, been chairman of the Israel Professional Footballers Association.

Avi Cohen
Motti Kimche