Analysis

Israeli Soccer's Golden Boy Just Took a Huge Risk. And It Could Catapult Him to Fame

Manor Solomon, 19, has signed for Shakhtar Donetsk – a team that is known for taking a chance on young talent and launching players into the soccer stratosphere

Manor Solomon in action for Maccabi Petah Tikva against Beitar Jerusalem in 2017. He will now be playing in the rather chillier climes of Kharkiv for Shakhtar Donetsk.
Nir Keidar

Six million euros, during the winter transfer window, for the talented 19-year-old winger. That’s what top Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk paid. No, not just for Manor Solomon. There was someone else: Douglas Costa, in January 2010. Five years later he was sold to Bayern Munich for 30 million euros and today he’s a star at Juventus.

Despite the fact they have something in common, this doesn’t mean Solomon will follow in Costa’s path. In that summer of 2015, Shakhtar sold three Brazilian players it had brought on board at a young age: Luiz Adriano, who had cost 3 million euros in 2007, was sold to Milan for 8 million euros. But Fernando, for whom Shakhtar paid 11 million euros in 2013, was actually sold to Sampdoria two years later at a loss of 3 million euros.

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In terms of the Luzon family and Maccabi Petah Tikva, their investment in the talented young Solomon paid off. They sold a bullish stock. In terms of Shakhtar, which is playing with a bigger investment portfolio, this is an investment toward a future profit.

That is what it has done with many young players, especially those Brazilians. This is the right way to see the amount paid – the second highest an Israeli team has received for a player; the biggest was for Eran Zahavi, a goal machine for three straight seasons in China – as a wise investment by the Ukrainians.

For Solomon, whose last season for Petah Tikva was not as good as the previous one, this is certainly a very good deal. Financially, of course, but also in terms of going to Europe. Yes, it’s not simple to move to the freezing east. But he has signed for a team that plays regularly in the Champions League (and will feature in the Europa League next month, after being knocked out of the Champions League in December) and, even more important, one that is on the radar of every major European team. That can be seen by its former players like Fernandinho, Willian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who are now on the roster of leading teams on the Continent.

No one is promising that this will happen with Solomon. For every player who succeeds at Shakhtar and advances upward, there are another two or three with teams on the level of Shakhtar (not that this is bad). And for everyone who stays at Shakhtar, there are also a few who are loaned and play for smaller teams or return home. At any given moment, Shakhtar Donetsk has dozens of players (currently that figure is 20) on loan at other teams – from Malaga in Spain to Sochaux in France, and many players in the local Ukraine league.

The purchase of a young player is both a risk and an opportunity for everyone: the buyer, the seller and the player. It won’t be easy for Solomon in a new country. The language is difficult and so is the weather. And beyond all that, he’ll also be fighting for playing time on the field. For instance, against 19-year-old Brazilian Marquinhos Cipriano, who, like Solomon, plays forward or right midfield; or Fernando, another 19-year-old Brazilian who plays in a similar position.

Solomon’s life would be easier at one of Israel’s bigger teams, a top team in Belgium or at the bottom of La Liga in Spain. He might even come back to Israel with his tail between his legs. But either way, he has a real chance here for a breakthrough.