At some point in his playing career, Walid Badir stopped continuing for another season and began dragging on for another season. Dragging can be a cumbersome activity that involves great effort. The need to prepare for the day after this role at Hapoel Tel Aviv – a club that sorely lacks leadership was made clear to him by the club’s executives. It was more of a request than a suggestion.
Every time he was offered a new contract the meaning was, beyond esteem for the player and the man himself, saving having to sign a younger, more expensive player to replace him. Thus, submissively but with respect for his professionalism and in the knowledge that there were few better players in his position, Badir was allowed to drag on through his last, difficult season.
“I didn’t sleep for two weeks,” he said after the last Tel Aviv derby, following which he announced his intention to retire after 21 years in the game.
Maybe he was referring to the difficulty involved in taking such a decision to end his career – so much as to deny him sleep – but maybe he was also hinting at the physical pain he has been suffering for some time. The type of pain that would disturb anyone’s sleep. During the day he was forced to suffer in silence and carry on, as was expected of him.
It was difficult to hide. His running style, which had always been unconventional, became even more unseemly in the last few years. Sometimes you could feel his pain just by looking at him. It looked like he was stepping on nails.
The truth was even more painful – it wasn’t what he stepped on, but what he stepped with. His experience and reading of the game only improved with the years, but his legs failed him. There's a reason he began his career as a striker, became a defensive midfielder and ended as center back. His legs became heavier and his running more slow, and one can only imagine the pain he went through after every game and training session, because he never said a thing. He just kept dragging on.
When Badir signed for Hapoel Tel Aviv in the summer of 2005 there were those who said he was past his peak. Five years after they wrongly assessed his staying power, he lifted the Premier League trophy at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, thus becoming the first Arab Israeli captain to do so.
After beginning his career at Hapoel Petah Tikva, Badir signed for Wimbledon in the English Premier League for the 1999-2000 season but failed to make much of an impression, apart from his only goal – a wonderful shot against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
He returned to Israel and joined Maccabi Haifa just as the Avraham Grant era was beginning, and together with teammates like Yossi Benayoun played an important part in the team’s four Premier League titles in five years.
In his eight seasons at Hapoel he added the league title and five cups to his personal tally of trophies.
Now that he has left the playing field for the last time, he will no longer need to drag anything. One of the best captains Hapoel Tel Aviv has ever had can now simply continue on his way.