Manor Solomon, Fulham and Israel’s Football Revolution

Manor Solomon has not had the most settled season of his professional career, in and out of the starting line-ups at one of Ukraine’s premier clubs – Shakhtar Donetsk – before having to flee the Ukraine after Russian forces invaded the country.

His journey from Kyiv – where Shakhtar and their players have been based since Russia’s initial invasion of the Donbas in 2014 – to Poland, and finally back to Israel was keenly followed by many in his homeland.

He was initially reassured that he and his teammates would be safe as recently as February when the club returned from a pre-season tour of Turkey, his representatives saying:

“Manor will return to Kiev together with his club, he is in a quiet area and Shakhtar has given us assurances. He is focusing on soccer. That quiet was broken in the early morning when Solomon woke up to blasts going off all over the Ukrainian capital.”

A 15-hour car journey to the border, followed by a 10-hour wait alongside tens of thousands of hours trying to escape the country eventually saw Solomon cross into Poland, before flying back to Israel.

This dramatic escape appears to be the bookend of Solomon’s Ukrainian adventure. There is widespread belief that he will be joining Fulham, a side on the cusp of returning to the Premier League for the third time in as many attempts.

For those unfamiliar with Manor Solomon, he is currently being described as a replacement for Fabio Carvalho, another young talent seemingly on the move this summer, following in the footsteps of Harvey Elliott by joining Liverpool when his contract expires. However, during his time at Shakhtar he’s mainly been used as a left winger, and is much more likely to provide competition for Neeskens Kebano, who has experienced his best season in a Fulham shirt.

Solomon has recorded a goal or assist every other game this season (0.52 per 90, as per FBRef), while Kebano has slightly edged him with 0.56 (FBRef). Arguably the Ukrainian Premier League is of a slightly higher quality than the English Championship, but they’ve both been playing in dominant sides within those setups. The main difference is playing time, with Kebano sustaining that attacking output over nearly 1600 minutes this campaign. In contrast, Solomon has only started half the matches he’s appeared in during 2021/22. This drop-off in playing time is one of the reasons the Israeli has gone from being linked with Arsenal just over a year ago, to potentially joining a newly-promoted side instead.

Solomon does fit the Kebano mould when looking at some of his key attributes. He has plenty of flair, and enjoys driving at opposition full-backs, and his low centre of gravity makes him hard to stop as an effective dribbler. Solomon is much more right-footed than Kebano and is much more likely to drive inside, whereas Kebano can get to the byline and deliver crosses for Aleksandr Mitrović. He does still need more minutes under his belt to continue improving, something that won’t have been helped by the interruption to this season.

It’s unlikely Marco Silva will want to completely revolutionise Fulham tactically when they go up, and so this might play into the thinking that Solomon might operate more centrally, a role he primarily plays when he links up with Israel’s national team. But his decision making still needs work, something that Carvalho demonstrates an exception ability to do at Fulham, especially for someone his age. But he’s imperious on the counter-attack as a quick, direct footballer, and that fast transition might be an extra weapon in Silva’s armoury against better sides, given how patient his side can be in the Championship as the dominant force in the division.

ISRAEL’S FUTURE

In the latest international break, Manor Solomon was the youngest member of the senior squad at 22, with only a quarter of the players selected under the age of 25. However, this is not because there’s a lack of talent coming through Israel’s ranks. Instead, the youth sides were allowed to stick together as they push the traditional powerhouses to qualify for their respective competitions. The under-19s did exactly that, topping their Elite Round group to qualify for the European Championship for only the second time. The under-21s stumbled, drawing with Poland and losing to Germany, but still occupy a play-off spot with two games to go to qualify for their respective Euros having been one of the surprise packages in qualifying so far. They’ve already beaten Poland away from home in this campaign, done the double over previous hosts Hungary and were minutes away from beating Germany in their first meeting when both sides had a 100% record.

The under-21 side is nearly all still based in Israel, however, these performances would have turned some heads, and there is a player who has created a blueprint for moving to the next level at a young age; Celtic’s Liel Abada.

Abada was 19 when he left Maccabi Petah Tikva last summer, a young winger from a mid-table Israeli club joining Scottish giants Celtic. A move that for many would have been overwhelming, and the expectation would have been for Abada to need some bedding in time before making an impact on the first team. But 17 goal involvements in 32 league appearances in his debut season so far for the Bhoys has immediately made him one of the brightest prospects in the league, and it would be no surprise if bids from abroad offered Celtic the chance to make a serious profit after only twelve months in Scotland.

It would not be a surprise to see foreign clubs look towards Hapoel Tel Aviv pair Doron Leidner (’02, LB) and Osher Davida (’01, RW), while Or Blorian (Maccabi Petah Tikva, ’00, CB), Gil Cohen (FC Ashdod, ’00, CB), Omri Gandelman (Maccabi Netanya, ’00, DM) and Ido Shahar (Maccabi Petah Tikva – on loan from Maccabi Tel Aviv, ’01, CM) have all had strong campaigns for the under-21 national team.

It feels like an age since Yossi Benayoun, Tal Ben Haim and Eyal Berkovic introduced a generation of English football fans to talents from Israel, but Manor Solomon could be the man to lead the next group of his compatriots to these shores.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s