Israel’s next best thing dreams big
2002 was the last time Israel’s men’s national team qualified for a major tournament. There have been several generations trying to bring the side back into contention but things have not been looking on the up for the Israeli side.
But a new generation has been building up from the ground and, despite finishing 14th at the Men’s 19 EHF EURO 2021 in August, Israel have been developing several promising players. One of which is line player Or Refael Maman, a 19-year-old powerhouse, who has been showing glimpses of enormous talent both for the youth national team and at club level.
However, with handball not being a trailblazing sport in Israel, the young line player had his share of challenges before settling to play the sport.
“Yes, handball is not such a popular sport in Israel, but I fell in love with the game from a very young age, when I was only 10 years old. The game just attracted me and it was love at first sight.”
“The first steps have been difficult, because I was not a good or a leading player, nor I did take handball very seriously. However, something changed in me, I wanted to achieve great things and I did not stop dreaming to become one of the best,” says Maman to eurohandball.com.
The 19-year-old line player, who took part in the EHF Respect Your Talent programme, has been steadily and stealthily making a name for himself in the past three years. He scored 29 goals at the Men’s 19 EHF EURO 2021 for Israel, while also adding 26 for club team Holon Yuvalim HC in four matches in the EHF European Cup Men this season.
The RYT project is aiming to encourage the personal development of young players, with several former top players becoming mentors for the ones still trying to make their big break in handball. At the Men’s 19 EHF EURO 2021, Slovenia’s Vid Kavticnik and Sweden’s Stefan Lövgren conducted an activity day with the selected players, including Maman.
The Israeli line player learned plenty from his interaction with former stars, with the players in the EHF Respect Your Talent project benefitting from a special toolkit which includes, among other topics, information on media communication, use of social media, dual career, anti-doping and fair play.
“This means a lot for me, it is a huge honour to be part of something special like this. The things I learned from the EHF Respect Your Talent project are very useful and important for athletes, both regarding the sport and things outside of handball. For example, learning how to conduct an interview is a very important ability, which can enhance yourself as a player,” added Maman.
Already a prolific scorer
What about the future for such a young player, who is dreaming big?
Well, Maman has that covered. After scoring 29 goals for Israel at the Men’s 19 EHF EURO 2021, the second top scorer of his team, the 19-year-old line player has been called up for Israel’s senior national team, ahead of their friendly double-header against Italy this weekend.
He will now have the chance to meet his heroes, players like Yoav Lumbroso, Daniel Mosindi and Dan Tepper, earmarked as the players he admires from Israeli handball.
“Wow! Just wow! My first call-up for the national team is a moment that I will never forget. It was one of my biggest dreams in handball. It will be an incredibly good experience for me, trying to learn from everyone and develop as a player. I cannot wait to make my debut and I will do my best in this game,” smiled Maman.
My main objective is to learn something new about handball every day. I think a good player wants to improve on a daily basis
Playing against international teams is not a novelty for Maman, especially after his antics in the EHF European Cup Men this season, where he was one of the most consistent players for his side, Holon Yuvalim HC.
In round 3, Holon met a more experienced and stronger side in Besiktas JK, as the Turkish side left nothing to chance to take a 76:60 aggregate win over the doubleheader.
Maman scored 15 of the 60 goals, or a quarter of Holon’s goals against the Turkish side, progressing and making a name for himself with his performances.
“It was very nice to play against Besiktas. The level was high and the atmosphere in the arena was incredible. For me, it was a very good chance to compete at this level. Of course, I hope it will happen more often in my career,” said the 19-year-old line player.
The discussion is slowly getting back towards the future. Well, what about it? With the help of the EHF Respect Your Talent project, Maman has been eagerly setting up a plan for himself. Both at club and at national team level.
“I think that the new generations emerging will bring better results for Israel in the future. There are plenty of players now who are playing abroad and getting their skills improved. For myself? I hope I will also play in a strong league in Europe.”
Pressed to be more specific, Maman smiled.
“My main objective is to learn something new about handball every day. I think a good player wants to improve on a daily basis. If I were to choose, of course, I would like to play in the top leagues, like the German Bundesliga or the French Starligue. But I also want to be a stalwart for the Israeli national team and prove to the handball community in Europe that we can also be good,” concluded Maman.