The Journeyman

Journeyman: A worker or sports player who is reliable but not outstanding

Our team is coming along nicely, with Hermann Hreidarsson keeping things tight at the back, Nigel Quashie keeps us ticking in midfield, Marcus Bent plundering a handful of goals and Antoine Sibierski playing where required. This week, it’s the turn of another defender – a man who has over 90 International caps, has played for two of the “big six” and, perhaps most importantly, it’s his 35th birthday on Friday.

Big Sam & Big Ben

Tal Ben Haim first arrived in the Premier League in 2004, during the time when Big Sam was collecting one of every nationality to great effect. Although not a first team regular straight away, as the season went on Ben Haim became more established in the side – though with Radhi Jaidi, Bruno N’Gotty and Ivan Campo the competition, he did have the advantage of not needing a lie down every half hour. Ben Haim scored his first and only Premier League goal in a 3-1 win over Spurs, and because YouTube is great, here it is:

Bolton finished 6th in Ben Haim’s first season (The Premier League: the best in the world) which meant European football in the 2005/2006 season. Tal was so pivotal now that he became the first defender on the teamsheet, and even captained the side in some games. The one blot on his copybook was scoring the own goal that essentially knocked the Trotters out of the UEFA Cup in Marseille at the last 32 stage, but we’ll forgive that. Bolton missed out on a second successive European campaign, though, finishing 8th. Ben Haim entered the last year of his contract in the 2006/07 season, which put several clubs on alert to try and sign the Israeli International, including Chelsea. Although they were unable to seal the deal in January, Allardyce departed before the season’s end to take over at Newcastle and tried to take Ben Haim with him on a free transfer. Unsurprisingly, though, when faced with a choice of Chelsea or Newcastle, Ben Haim opted for Stamford Bridge.

Fourth Choice

Jose Mourinho opted for Ben Haim to bolster his defence ahead of the 07/08 season, however, he faced stiff competition for places from John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and Alex. Unfortunately for Tal, Mourinho left a few months into the season and immediately pegged Ben Haim as the fourth choice in his position. Our man later went on to claim that he would never have signed for Chelsea had he known Grant would be the manager, a comment which cost him two weeks wages and an exit from the club, after 13 league appearances.

Five Million Man

Mark Hughes spent £5m to take Ben Haim to Manchester City, using the age old Football Manager tactic of signing reserves from bigger clubs. See also: Wayne Bridge, Shaun Wright-Phillips. Ben Haim found himself behind Richard Dunne in the pecking order – eclipsed if you will – which wouldn’t sit well with anybody let alone a man who was signed by Jose Mourinho a little over 12 months ago. With City struggling in mid table and going nowhere, Ben Haim didn’t think life could get any worse. Then he signed on loan for Sunderland.

Ben Haim made a massive five appearances in his 6 months on Wearside, Sunderland finished 16th under the caretaker guidance of Ricky Sbragia and Ben Haim sprinted back to Man City before Steve Bruce arrived.

A little Hart goes a long way

It was time for another new club for Ben Haim, having not been a regular since leaving Bolton in 2007, which is something I wish I had considered before I started writing about him. Anyway, surely things will turn around for Tal with a nice fresh start at that stable Premier League club Portsmouth?

Signed by Paul Hart, Portsmouth’s financial concerns were already rearing their heads and before long, Hart was sacked and replaced by…Avram Grant. Oh, Tal. I feel for you. Anyway, Ben Haim had a number of injuries in the second half of the season which meant he missed the FA Cup semi and final, so there’s not even a slither of good news for all you Tal fans out there. With Portsmouth in administration and relegated, where do you go from there? Certainly not the Championship, as his wages were an awful debt for Portsmouth. As ever, though, somebody was always willing to pay those £35k a week wages…

Grant your Wishes

“I thought you didn’t like Avram Grant?” asked Ben Haim’s wife as her husband set off to play for him again. Probably. I have no proof that conversation actually happened. Anyway, Ben Haim joined West Ham on a 6-month loan deal, West Ham were terrible and after a 5-0 loss at Newcastle in January, the loan deal expired and Portsmouth couldn’t afford him. West Ham and Grant went on to finish 20th, which Ben Haim was probably quite pleased to avoid. Although Ben Haim was back at Portsmouth, the proverbial coffers were empty and due to not being paid, manager Steve Cotterill couldn’t pick him. The 2011/12 season saw Ben Haim play over 30 times in the Championship under Michael Appleton, but they were relegated to League One. Apparently, that is where Tal draws the line, and after another row over pay and refusing to play at League One level, an agreement was eventually reached to release him from his contract.

In January 2013, Harry Redknapp took Ben Haim to QPR. He only played 3 league games and didn’t really help as Rangers were relegated in 20th position.  Wow. This was his last Premier League club.

He did resurface at Charlton, managing to finish midtable in the Championship and indeed is still playing now for Maccabi Tel-Aviv where he started his career. Ben Haim was obviously a talented player but to play for three sides consecutively who finished 20th in the Premier League is some feat. He’s struggled to hold down a regular place anywhere and wasn’t deemed worthy of a start on loan at Sunderland, and he must be loved by the Portsmouth fans…

I normally feel a degree of remorse for calling the members of this ‘team’ Journeymen, but in this case, I’ll make an exception. I don’t like you, Tal Ben Haim. There. I said it.

Welcome aboard Tal, we’ll try not to boo you.