REVIVO REVISITED – The Israeli who split Istanbul

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Updated: May 17, 2013
Haim Revivo

In Orhan Parmuk’s Istanbul: Memories and The City, the author takes the reader on a melancholic journey through his childhood and formative years. There’s a recurring theme of neuroticism, sadness and anger in the book, which is set in the 1960s.

Those feelings were still pertinent nearly 40 years later – but this time at one of Turkey’s biggest football clubs and it was all down to a super-talented Israeli. Fenerbahçe had won the league in 2001, and, at the same time, denied their hated cross-city neighbours Galatasaray a fifth consecutive title. It was the last season that Turkey’s top division was known as the 1.Lig. A year later it became the Super League.

Heading the scoring charts in the 2000-2001 campaign was Galatasaray’s prolific Brazilian striker Mário Jardel. Joining him were fellow forwards, Adanaspor’s Cenk İşler and Bursaspor’s Okan Yılmaz.

Despite the fact that Fener won the league, their leading goalscorer was a creative midfielder who inspired them – with 14 goals from “the hole” – to their 14th title.

Haim Revivo was a religious Jewish Israeli who came to be adored in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That was until he switched to Gala – and became a hate figure for Fener fans. “I am only afraid of God and nothing else,” Revivo told Turkey’s Daily News when he switched to the Ali Sami Yen.

Revivo had arrived in Istanbul in the summer of 2000 from Spaniards Celta Vigo. He was part of an excellent side that contained such talent as Michel Salgado, Aleksandr Mostovoi, Claude Makélelé and Valeri Karpin at the Galician club.

Fener coach Mustafa Denizli had only been appointed in 2000 and was looking to bolster his attacking options. As well as Revivo, in came Bosnian midfielder Elvir Baljić, tricky Croatian winger Milan Rapaić and the Swedish beanpole striker Kennet Andersson. But it was the Israeli who Fener fans took to their hearts.

Born into a Moroccan Jewish family in the port city of Ashdod, Revivo’s skills were evident from an early age. Spotted and taken into Hapoel Ashdod’s youth system, Tel Aviv side Bnei Yehuda signed him when he was 18 as Hapoel had no senior side.

Revivo then played for Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa – he was part of the Haifa side which beat Paris Saint-Germain in the 1994 European Cup Winners Cup – before he caught the eye of Celta manager Fernando Castro Santos and he was off to northern Spain.

Spain’s history with its Jews is a complicated one. The majority were expelled during the 1492 Inquisition, and, under the fascist General Francisco Franco, a firm policy of contra los Judíos was continued. This was in spite of an estimated 25 per cent of Spaniards being descendants of the Sephardim (Spanish Jews).

Celta even managed to persuade the Spanish FA to bring a game forward a couple of hours as Revivo needed to observe the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. Revivo scored in a quarter of his games for Celta, despite not being a traditional target man.

His move to Turkey caused bemusement in Israel. The country’s star player going to ply his trade in a Muslim country? Turkey was by no means a theocratic state – secularism was part of the constitution – but its citizens were proud to be Muslim. Nevertheless, Revivo settled in quickly.

Perhaps it was down to his Eastern roots and North African-influenced upbringing that he felt at home in a country which straddles both Europe and Asia. It had been four years since they had won the league and the Fener fans were becoming restless. Enter Denizli.

Learning his trade at Galatasaray under the experienced tutelage of German Jupp Derwall, Denizli later took over and guided them to the semi-finals of the European Cup. Spells with Aachen (in Germany), Gala (again), Kocaelispor and the Turkish national team – whom he took to the Euro 2000 quarter-finals – followed.

So Fener fans were not impressed when he saddled up at the Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium. But Denizli soon put their fears at ease after Fener won their first six games. Revivo, playing behind Andersson and with Baljić and Rapaić either side of him, scored three times in his first five games. That season, the Israeli hit the back of the net 16 times in just 37 games.

His play introduced a more pressing game to Fener, giving the front four a license to terrorise opposing defenders, while the Serbian Nikola Lazetić and Turkish international Abdullah Ercan swept up all before them.

Add to that a mean defence of Zoran Mirkovic, Mert Meriç, Ogun Temizkanoğlu and Mustafa Dogan in front of Turkish goalkeeping legend Rüştü Reçber, it’s not hard to see why Fener enjoyed such a successful campaign. But it all went down to a nail-biting final game.

Revivo and Fener were on the Black Sea coast to face Samsunspor and had to win. Galatasaray were at home to Trabzonspor, whom they beat 4-0. Ali Akdeniz had given Samsunspor the lead – but Revivo was on-hand to level matters, before Yusuf Şimşek scored twice to seal the win and give title glory to Denizli and his men. But the happiness was not to last.

Fener had taken Revivo to their hearts, but the Israeli delivered them the ultimate betrayal by moving to Galatasaray.

Rumours had been abound for months that he was on his way – but never could Fener’s fans imagine it would be to their most detested rivals. Denizli has gone, replaced by the dour German Werner Lorant.

Preferred to new signing Hakan Bayraktar and youngster Serhat Akın, Revivo still managed to score 15 goals in a season which saw Fener finish second – to Galatasaray – and crash out of their Champions League group with no points.

Revivo was linked with a move to Liverpool, and incredulously, to Gala. “The only thing true in the Turkish newspapers is the date,” Revivo told Israeli daily Haaretz while the rumour vultures circled. Revivo even called a press conference to deny any move across town. Days later Fener accepted a bid from the new Turkish champions and he was on his way.

It was despite Fener directors angrily accusing Galatasaray of approaching Revivo while he was still their player. But Fener director Mahmut Uslu blamed Galatsaray rather than the player.
He told Hürriyet: “Negotiations with a contracted Fenerbahce player during the season are not in accordance with the verbal gentleman’s agreement between the two chairmen made at the beginning of the season.”

Galatasaray – with Fatih Terim back at the helm – saw Revivo as a potential replacement for icon Gheorghe Hagi. It wasn’t to be. A season of ups and downs, as is the norm at Gala, saw the Israeli in and out of the side, scoring just five times in more than 30 appearances.

They finished eight points behind champions Besiktas and their notoriously impatient fans turned against their players. And Revivo was one of them. He’d had enough after three years in Istanbul.

Hamburg came sniffing round, but Revivo wanted to return home with wife Sagit and their children. He could have gone to any of Israel’s big four in Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Betar Jerusalem, but chose to spend the final years of his career with FC Ashdod, his hometown club.

However, after just 12 games, he called it quits – aged 31. Revivo’s passion for the game, he claimed, had disappeared.

More Israelis have followed Revivo’s path and signed for foreign clubs. Pini Balili spent more than seven years in Turkey, but not to quite the same adoration that Revivo received. Now a successful businessman in Israel and a director at Ashdod, he could have become a Fener legend.

However Revivo chose a sacrificial path – and one that left a sour taste in Fenerbahçe’s mouth

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Follow Simon on Twitter at @Yafs

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