Avi Cohen, Israel’s first international soccer star to play in England’s top flight league, passed away in a Tel Aviv hospital yesterday, after succumbing to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident last week. He had been in a coma since the accident. Cohen was 54.
Cohen is considered one of the greatest Israeli soccer players of all time. Born in Cairo, he began his career with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 1975. Within a year, he was a regular member of the Israeli national team. He quickly caught the eye of several clubs, including Liverpool, which, at the time, was the dominant force in English soccer.
In 1979, he joined the Reds for a fee of $450,000, becoming the first Israeli to play for an English team.
Cohen’s greatest moment in a Liverpool shirt came on September 25, 1979, when he was selected in the starting 11 for his team’s game against Aston Villa. The Reds, who were reigning league champions at the time, needed a win to retain their title – and things looked to be going according to plan when they took an early lead. Just before half time, however, Cohen scored an own goal to level the score.
But five minutes after the restart, he made amends by scoring his side’s second goal. Liverpool went on to win 4-1 and the championship remained on Merseyside.
He retired as a player in 1990 and has since coached six teams. For the past five years he has been chairman of the Israel Professional Footballers Association.
Cohen’s son, Tamir Cohen, is a midfielder for the Bolton Wanderers in northern England. He flew back to Israel after the accident to be by his father’s bedside.
Dozens of Liverpool fans paid tribute to Cohen on the club’s website, many of them recalling his two-goal performance in September 1979. “YNWA,” many of the tributes read, quoting Liverpool’s famous anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”