Soccer / Berkovic: Retire, Who Me?

I want to play for Maccabi Haifa, says veteran midfielder

I have no intention of retiring and I want to play for Maccabi Haifa next season, Eyal Berkovic said at his much anticipated press conference in Tel Aviv yesterday.

"Retire? I can always retire," said Berkovic, until last month on the books of English Premier League side Portsmouth, dispelling speculation that the 32-year-old would hang up his boots.

"I love soccer. I decided to return to Israel because I want to continue playing. I've had a lot of thoughts on what to do; I don't have the strength to wander any more. I want to return to Israel, to the house I have built in Haifa. I would like to return to Maccabi Haifa," Berkovic said, adding that he had received several offers, including from Nottingham Forest of the English First Division.

"I would be very offended if Haifa didn't want me, but I won't force myself on any team. When I left Haifa I had a lot of bad feelings against the club, but I love the fans and am willing to forgive everything."

Summing up his time in the United Kingdom, where he played for six clubs in eight-and-a-half years, Berkovic said that, "I had an illustrious career. I played for good teams. I surprised myself and I surprised you. I was an ambassador for Israel. I'm not sorry for any decision I took, with the exception of moving to Celtic."

Berkovic didn't address his exclusion from Israel coach Avraham Grant's squad for the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign, a possibility that had Israel Football Association bosses sweating in recent days.

"I know you're disappointed, but I'm not going to talk about the national team. I have already said everything I have to say."

However, Berkovic couldn't resist a swipe at Portsmouth manager Velimir Zajec. "I couldn't stand the thought of seeing his face any more," Berkovic said when asked why he decided not to stay and fight for his place at the club.