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May, 8, 2006

Former Hammers star Berkovic retires from game

JERUSALEM, May 8 (Reuters) - Israeli midfielder Eyal Berkovic announced his retirement on Sunday, his club Maccabi Tel Aviv said.

Berkovic, who spent nine seasons playing in Britain, made a return to Israeli soccer at the beginning of this season but it was a disappointment and his pronouncement that Maccabi would aspire to win trophies came to nothing.

Berkovic left Portsmouth last season to return to Israel and joined Maccabi Tel Aviv who are celebrating their centenary year but it has been a poor campaign both for him and the club.

The midfielder never managed to dominate and earned a six-match ban for arguing with the referee in a league match, while the club's aspirations for trophies have come to nothing.

With one match remaining this season, Maccabi are fifth in the league, 31 points behind champions Maccabi Haifa.

Berkovic, 34, was Israel's most influential player during the 1990s. He earned 78 international caps but was dropped by outgoing Israel coach Avraham Grant from the last World Cup qualifying campaign.

He began his career with Maccabi Haifa and won two championships with them: in his first season as a senior in 1990/91, and in 1993/94 when he led them to the title as they kept an unbeaten record for the entire season.

In 1996, Berkovic moved to England and made an immediate impact when he scored two goals and made three more in Southampton's stunning 6-3 premiership win over Manchester United at the Dell under Graeme Souness, who was instrumental in signing him.

The following season he moved to West Ham where under Harry Redknapp the clubfinished fifth in the Premier League.

In 1999, Berkovic signed for Celtic for 5.5 million pounds which was a Scottish transfer record.

The highlight of his international career came in 1999 when he led Israel to a famous 5-0 home drubbing of Austria and earned an unprecedented perfect 10 for his feats from the local newspapers.

Maccabi Tel Aviv said Berkovic faxed them a letter saying he wanted to end his playing career without a major media circus.

'I wanted to end it quietly, without fanfare because I do not like farewells, it is too emotional,' he was quoted as saying.

His official sendoff is set for May 18 when Maccabi host Argentine side Boca Juniors as part of their centenary celebrations.

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