Colombia’s Jewish football manager Jose Pekerman has said he has no intention of taking charge of the Israeli national side.
The Argentine has led the ‘cafeteros’ to their best ever World Cup campaign in Brazil, and ahead of their quarter-final clash against the hosts tomorrow night, was quizzed about taking charge of the Israeli side in the future, along with being asked to speak some Hebrew. However, the 64-year-old merely smiled and politely declined.
Pekerman’s exploits have seen him heralded as a national hero in the South American country, and having been granted Colombian citizenship prior to the start of the competition, his popularity has grown to such an extent that he’s received more than 400,000 votes in Colombia’s presidential elections – despite not standing for office.
Born in Villa Dominguez, Entre Rios, where his grandparents emigrated from Ukraine, to settle in the Province’s Jewish agricultural colonies, he now lives in the Jewish Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Villa Crespo.
Starting his playing career with a Maccabi club in Argentina’s Entre Rios Province, he nearly found himself working in Israel when he was shortlisted for the manager’s job at Beitar Jerusalem.
While leading an assimilated existence, his Jewish roots have though seen him face anti-Semitism from the Argentinean Football Association. Having coached their U20 side to three World Youth Championships in 1995, 1997 and 2001, he was overlooked for the role of the senior team by Argentine FA President Julio Grondona, who had gone on record saying Jews have no place in football because “Jews don’t like it when it gets rough.”Grondona eventually relented having been charged with anti-Semitism, and Pekerman was finally appointed the role in 2004. Pekerman will though be hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself as two years later at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, he was knocked out by the hosts at the quarter-final stage.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s match with Brazil, he said: “It’s going to be a great match, we’re two teams which have players with the intention of playing properly.
“Brazil will be at their best. They’ve just played a very difficult match but winning gives you a lot of confidence. We can expect a match with a lot of tension but also a good technical level because of the attitude of the teams.
“Yes, we will always respect Brazil because they are a great team with great players. We know everyone at the World Cup goes through difficult moments but they’ve overcome them.”
Meanwhile, the World Cup’s only Jewish player saw his tournament ended on Tuesday night after the USA were beaten 2-1 by Belgium in their second round clash. Kyle Beckerman had played a part in their three previous group games, though was an unused substitute in their extra-time defeat.