Daniel Peretz had a largely quiet game on Thursday, so Maccabi Tel Aviv pulled out all the stops for him instead. The extent of the farewell festivities and outpour of love in the stadium was unusual for a 23-year-old after only two full senior seasons, but it reflected his special standing at the club.
A Maccabi player and supporter since the age of five, Peretz was already a folk hero for winning three domestic cups before he helped Israel to the semi-finals of the Under-21 European Championship last month. This bittersweet departure to Bayern Munich has paradoxically only made him a bigger name still. The whole of Israeli football is excited about his move to the serial German champions.
On the final whistle against Slovenian side Celje, a 4-1 home win in the first leg of a Europa Conference League play-off to decide group-stage qualification, Maccabi released a press statement confirming his €5million (£4.3m; $5.4m) transfer to Bayern with an effusive quote from their Canadian owner Mitchell Goldhar, who had flown in just for the occasion. “Daniel’s first-class professional qualities are surpassed only by his personal character,” Goldhar said. “We are sad to see Daniel go, but we are also proud on many levels and wish him and his new club much success.”
An emotional two-and-a-half minute video, mixing Peretz’s best moments in goal with a recorded goodbye speech, tugged at the heartstrings. He recalled the day he decided to become a ’keeper as a six-year-old when he saw a pair of gloves in a shopping mall and spoke movingly of his deep “connection” to the club.
After the game, he went up into the stand that holds the club’s ultras, who serenaded him for a good 10 minutes. Team-mates formed a guard of honour, then he was lifted high and given the ‘bumps’. Veteran striker Eran Zahavi, scorer of a hat-trick on the night, kissed him on the cheek.
Later, Peretz gave a speech in the dressing room and treated his team-mates to dinner at Cappella, an upscale restaurant on the 14th floor of a city centre high-rise.
“He’s been an unbelievable player for this club,” Maccabi manager Robbie Keane said. The Irishman has only been in the job since late June but those two months have been enough to convince the 43-year-old former striker of Peretz’s qualities. “All I can say, since we’ve been here, is how humble and professional he is as a person. He’s a lovely kid, understands the game, understands what it’s like to be in a team.
“Of course, he’s sad that he’s going to be missing his team-mates, but he’s going to one of the biggest clubs in the world. We couldn’t stand in his way.”
Bayern couldn’t wait to get him to Munich. They sent a private jet — something unheard-of in Israeli football — to fly him, his family and his girlfriend, Noa Kirel, who represented Israel in May’s Eurovision contest, finishing third, to the Bavarian capital in the small hours of Friday morning.
Negotiations had been a little fraught between the clubs in the days before, with much haggling over the fee. Peretz had been so desperate to make it happen he had offered to give up a part of his rather modest, incentive-based salary, starting at €1.5million per year, to find an agreement. In the end, Bayern and Maccabi settled on €5m.
Young, tall, agile, confident on the ball and great at stopping penalties — he saved three at this summer’s Under-21 Euros, including two in a group-stage draw with Germany — Peretz will initially be third-choice behind currently injured captain Manuel Neuer and Sven Ulreich, whose agent, Jurgen Schwab, a specialist in goalkeepers, was involved in this transfer.
Bayern have made Peretz no promises, but he’ll be given ample opportunity to prove his quality and find out if he can become only the third foreign-born player to play in goal for the club since Belgium international Jean-Marie Pfaff in the 1980s. Peretz does have a German passport, on account of grandparents on his mother’s side of the family, which enabled tabloid Bild to have fun with a “Bayern sign totally unknown German keeper” headline a few days ago.
After seeking advice from his rabbi, Peretz will ask for the No 18 shirt. It’s a spiritual number in Judaism, representing life.
Union Berlin, Anderlecht of Belgium, Portugal’s Braga and a few French clubs were all interested in him this summer. RB Leipzig had made previous enquiries. Once Bayern came calling, his mind was made up, however, because of their number one man between the sticks.
Peretz spent his entire teenage years looking up to Neuer, quite literally: he had a giant photo of the 2014 World Cup winner on his bedroom wall.
My game in my words. By Manuel Neuer
“Daniel is coming to Munich to learn — to learn from the best,” a source close to the player who spoke to The Athletic on condition of anonymity, said. “To share the dressing room with Manuel Neuer is a dream come true for him.”
It’ll be a while before Bayern’s ultras sing his name, if they ever do, but Peretz’s beaming smile in front of photographers at Ben Gurion airport’s private terminal before leaving Tel Aviv last night said it all.
For the poster boy of Israeli goalkeeping, the chance to work with his idol was worth giving up all the adulation at home.
(Top photo: Raddad Jebarah/NurPhoto via Getty Images)