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The right guy to defend Maccabi Tel Aviv’s goals

  • LukeSport1
“He’s gone through three shoe-sizes in the past eight months,” says Guy Taitz of his goalkeeper son, Zach, who has just returned from a successful week-long trial with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Not only has Zach gone through a recent growth-spurt, always useful for a goalkeeper, but he’s growing taller in other ways too.
by LUKE ALFRED | Sep 19, 2019

Zach often plays in age-groups several years above him, and frequently suggests a maturity beyond his years, particularly as he had to cope with the loss of his mother to illness 18 months ago.

His recent trip to Israel was by no means his first overseas trip, and passport control, unfamiliar food, and foreign languages apparently hold no fear for the 13-year-old. “At his age, he’s probably travelled overseas more than I have,” says Guy. “He was doing his own washing overseas when he was nine, so he’s certainly not your normal pampered kid. They say he’s an older kid in a younger body.”

A keeper with talent beyond his years, Zach was first spotted at age six or seven by former Bafana Bafana goalkeeper André Arendse at Balfour Park in Johannesburg. Two years later, he was selected for a South African junior invitation side that played in one of the early editions of the Robin van Persie Invitational in Rotterdam, a tournament featuring the junior teams of some of Europe’s most glamourous and storied clubs.

During the Van Persie tournament, Zach was approached by Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man City, and subsequently went abroad to train with them for 10 weeks when he was nine. He impressed when in Britain, but for reasons both logistical and financial, was unable to take advantage of subsequent invitations.

“The thing about him is he doesn’t dream, he’s far more goal-oriented,” says Guy. “Kids going overseas often get over-awed. I’ve seen it happen too many times before. Not Zach. He treats it the same way as if he were playing at home and because of that, he’s able to play to his full potential when he goes abroad.

The most recent trip to Tel Aviv was arranged by Ashley Kotzin’s Forwardzone Agency. It footed the bill, and Zach was accompanied to Israel by agency employee Jordyn Pack. Guy received Maccabi Tel Aviv’s four-page assessment shortly after his boy returned to Joburg, and was proud to say that the club was hugely impressed with Zach’s technical abilities and general athleticism.

Keeping an eye on things from afar, Kotzin was similarly pleased. “It was very positive,” says Kotzin of Maccabi’s report. “Zach and Jordyn got onto a plane at 08:00 in Israel to fly home via Addis Ababa [in Ethiopia], and by 08:30, the technical report dropped in my inbox.

“It was thorough and complimentary. Maccabi Tel Aviv are a proper club. Their attention to this kind of detail is huge.”

Despite the glowing reports, Zach is still in primary school (at King David Linksfield), and there is a fair bit of developing – and physical growing – yet to do. A decision will be made on his future in due course, with Guy saying that as far as the boy is concerned, overseas is where he ultimately wants to be.

“Although he gets straight As, I still tell him that he’s missed more school than most kids in the country,” says Guy. “He’s not playing much school soccer now, but come next year, one of the conditions of his bursary is that he’ll need to play more for the school. He’s been chosen for the South African under-13 side to play in the World Futsal Championships in Barcelona next month, but I might just decide to hold him back. I haven’t quite made up my mind.”

While Zach’s abilities have resulted in him shooting past most of his peers, in other respects, he’s still a regular boy. He’s good at most other sports, including table-tennis, golf, and cricket and, like Guy, is a passionate Liverpool supporter. “I was just saying to him the other day that he’s had it easy as a Liverpool fan,” mutters his dad. “He never had to deal with the 1990s and the early 2000s. I’ve been a fan for 36 years, so I’ve seen it all.”

The cycles of Liverpool’s rise and fall aside, there has never been a better time to be an ambitious young footballer in the history of the game. The money, technical wisdom, and sheer know-how on show in most European leagues is simply breathtaking. Some feel, in fact, that the game has become over-theoretical and over-coached, with players now subject not only to the whims of capricious managers, but complex algorithms that plot everything from their size to their work rate.

Goals – and saving them – are one thing, but every young sportsman nowadays arguably confronts a more subtle challenge. We think football is about fame and money, and it is, but only to a limited degree. What really keeps those who are especially good at it going, day after numbing day, is love, for without love, there is nothing. Zach Taitz, a name you will hear more of in years to come, must stay in love with the game.

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