Channels

Bibras Natkho. (Photo: Nadav Zenziper)
Israel's Muslim soccer captain: Hatikvah makes me uncomfortable
Bibras Nathko is the Israel national soccer team's first ever Circassian captain player in the game against Andorra; he speaks to Ynet about the national anthem, his military service, his future prospects in Israeli clubs, and more.
Bibras Natkho already has his place in the Circassian people's history books. If you search online for information about notable Circassians, the CSKA Moscow and Israel national team midfielder's name will appear alongside those of sultans and princes.

 

 

About 7,000 of the world's nine million Circassians live in Israel, and last Thursday, during Israel's match against Andorra, Natkho became the national team's first Circassian captain in history (a feat he had previously achieved in the junior national team), and the first Muslim captain since Walid Badir.

 

Bibras Natkho during practice (Photo: Nadav Zenziper)
Bibras Natkho during practice (Photo: Nadav Zenziper)

 

Yes, the captain's armband was only temporarily given to Natkho by the substituted Tal Ben Haim, but for Natkho, his half-game stint was still exciting.

 

"At halftime, Tal Ben Haim gave me the captain's armband, as (national team coach) Eli Guttman instructed him," said Natkho. "I'm used to it in the junior teams, but to be the first Circassian to put it on my arm, a Muslim captain, it was an amazing feeling."

 

He continued, "This is the unique thing about this country, we should put aside all of the racism and everything, focus on the good qualities. Ataa and I (Ataa Jaber, an Israeli-Arab footballer) were both captains of Israeli national teams on the same day. That's what's amazing about our teams, we're all united as friends."

 

Those who watched the Israeli national anthem being played before the Andorra game could see Natkho standing silently.

 

"When I was young I sang the anthem, and I didn't understand the meaning of the words," he said, "as far as I'm concerned, singing 'nefesh yehudi homiyah' ('a Jewish soul still yearns'), or 'eretz-Zion vi-Yerushalayim' ('the land of Zion and Jerusalem'), is disrespecting the anthem."

 

Natkho during an Israel-Bosnia game. (Photo: Reuven Schwartz)
Natkho during an Israel-Bosnia game. (Photo: Reuven Schwartz)

 

"The team and the country are very important to me, but I'm Circassian and Muslim and so I can't sing some of the words," said Natkho. "I can't sing the anthem without feeling like a part of it, and that comes out of a great respect for it. I feel a great sense of belonging to the team and the country."

 

He continues, "When I was young, I was offered a transfer to Ajax Amsterdam. The Dutch club's management asked my father for one thing in return - that I sign a waiver for my IDF service. He refused. My father was a border police fighter in the West Bank for nearly 30 years. Loyalty is the most important thing to Circassians. The king of Jordan is guarded by Circassians alone, he believes only in them. As far as I'm concerned, putting on the national team's (captain's) armband is a huge honor, something that makes me better."

 

Not looking to save national team

Over his years in the national team, Natkho has taken a lot of criticism. For instance, people have talked about his closeness with Guttman as a reason for his inclusion in the team.

 

"They say I'm Guttman's son, no?" he said. "Well, know this, with me, either you like me of you don't. In Rubin Kazan (another Russian league team), I played a full 90 minutes in each game. I set a league record with a season in which I played every single minute. In CSKA Moscow, except for the game against Sporting Lisbon, I played all the time. So am I everyone's son? Maybe people expect things from me that are just not me."

 

When asked what he means by that, Natkho said, "I'm not someone who'll pass three-four players and score. I won't pass the ball to a player who's five meters away just so I can avoid being the one to lose it. I'll try to make the long pass, 30-40 meters. I'm not looking to save the team. Israel hasn't been to a big tournament for decades and it's not because of me, any coach knows exactly what I give and makes a choice. The national team stumbled before I came on as well, but I'll do everything I can to stop it."

 

Natkho with Eli Guttman. (Photo: Reuven Schwartz)
Natkho with Eli Guttman. (Photo: Reuven Schwartz)

 

Only recently, due to the Russian national team's performance during the Euro preliminaries, did Russian President Vladimir Putin decide to intervene and determine that five Russian players must play in each team during league games.

 

Natkho, though, still gets credit from Leonid Slutsky, his Jewish coach at CSKA Moscow, who's now also the country's temporary national team coach. "When I don't play, I go crazy," he said, "But it made me laugh, or angry, when last week the Israeli media said that I might be coming to Maccabi Tel Aviv."

 

Bibras Natkho with coach Eli Guttman. (Photo: Reuven Schwartz)
Bibras Natkho with coach Eli Guttman. (Photo: Reuven Schwartz)

 

Natkho, though, still gets credit from Leonid Slutsky, his Jewish coach at CSKA Moscow, who's now also the country's temporary national team coach. "When I don't play, I go crazy," he said, "But it made me laugh, or angry, when last week the Israeli media said that I might be coming to Maccabi Tel Aviv."

 

When asked what made him angry, he said, "I have an €8 million release clause in my contract. A call came in from Israel, saying that Maccabi was willing to pay 2 million. I talked to one of their managers, and he started laughing, saying that I can't be sold for 8 million even in a Playstation game. I wouldn't go to Maccabi. As far as pay goes as well, I'm making sums that Maccabi can't handle, and I haven't forgotten the curses against me.

 

Natkho for CSKA Moscow (Photo: Getty Images)
Natkho for CSKA Moscow (Photo: Getty Images)

 

When asked what made him angry, he said, "I have an €8 million release clause in my contract. A call came in from Israel, saying that Maccabi was willing to pay 2 million. I talked to one of their managers, and he started laughing, saying that I can't be sold for 8 million even in a Playstation game. I wouldn't go to Maccabi. As far as pay goes as well, I'm making sums that Maccabi can't handle, and I haven't forgotten the curses against me.

 

"Jordi Cruyff (Maccabi Tel Aviv's sports director) spoke with me when I was between PAOK (Natkho's previous team, representing Thessaloniki, Greece) and CSKA," Nathko adds.. "I told him I see myself in Europe and he understood. I appreciate him very much."

 

When asked if he'll return to play in Israel one day, Natkho said: "If I come back to Israel, it will be to end my career In Hapoel Tel Aviv, with a future s a member of the club's professional staff. I don't plan to come over as some savior, only to do my best for the club I grew up in."

 


פרסום ראשון: 09.07.15, 13:39
 new comment
See all talkbacks "Israel's Muslim soccer captain: Hatikvah makes me uncomfortable"
Warning:
This will delete your current comment