Itay Shechter's reputation as a deadly goal-getter preceded him prior to his arrival at German club Kaiserslautern last summer. Some five months later, it is fair to say the Israel international has more than lived up to his billing, earning respect and plaudits from Bundesliga observers and fans alike. The player's appetite has been whetted, and he is hungry for more.
“Itay is the player we always wanted," Kaiserslautern chairman and UEFA EURO 1996 winner Stefan Kuntz declared on unveiling the 24-year-old last July. "He’s a quality footballer, he has plenty of international experience, and his character is first-class too."
At the present time, the summer signing is one of only three ever-presents for FCK, alongside keeper Kevin Trapp and skipper Christian Tiffert. His three goals also make him top scorer for the four-time German champions.
“I'm never satisfied, and I know that as a pro you can never rest on your laurels," Shechter told FIFA.com. “I could certainly have done even better personally, and the same goes for us as a team," he continued self-critically. That attitude alone underlines the striker’s determination to improve, both with his club and on the international stage.
Fourteen games into the Bundesliga season, Kaiserslautern are just keeping their heads above water in 16th place, which would entail a relegation/promotion play-off at the end of the season. The €2.5m signing from Hapoel Tel Aviv is personally responsible for four of Marco Kurz's side's 13 points to date, as he struck their goals in a 1-1 draw with Augsburg and a 1-0 victory over Freiburg at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion.
Training is much more intense. Our sessions in Kaiserslautern last up to two and a half hours. In Israel, training normally finished after about the length of time Marco Kurz needs for the warm-up!
Just a few months into his stay, the likeable Israeli said Kaiserslautern has already become a home from home, although he confessed to one nagging problem in the otherwise agreeable city of 100,000. Shechter said: “Kaiserslautern is a small town where you can live really well. However, it's slowly but surely getting very cold, which is something I'll have to get used to. My friends in Tel Aviv are still spending their evenings on the beach or in outdoor cafes."
Nonetheless, the Rhineland-Palatinate region offers a few plus points as well, as Shechter acknowledged: “When I’m at home, I can’t go out, go shopping or have a meal without people recognising me and wanting snapshots and autographs. It's different here. In Kaiserslautern, we can focus totally on our football.”
Shechter's commitment and focus has helped him to settle rapidly to his new life in Germany, although he said it did take time to acclimatise to a far more punishing training schedule and the higher quality in the Bundesliga.
“Football in Germany is totally different compared to Israel," he said. "It's a lot quicker and your opponents have so much more quality. The goals are the same size, but that's it.
"Training is much more intense. Our sessions in Kaiserslautern last up to two and a half hours. In Israel, training normally finished after about the length of time Marco Kurz needs for the warm-up! But thanks to the extra work I've put in with our fitness coach Oliver Schaefer, I've become very familiar with the local forest."
Shechter joined the pro ranks with FC Nazareth Illit in 2005, switching first to Maccabi Netanya and then joining Hapoel in 2009, where he picked up UEFA Champions League experience. The player insists the decision to move overseas to Germany was an easy one, despite Kaiserslautern's likely absence from the European stage for the foreseeable future.
He said: “Going to the Bundesliga is a dream come true for every Israeli player. I'm playing in one of the very best leagues, at a club with massive history and tradition, extremely professional management, and targets I can completely identify with." In Kaiserslautern's case, that is nothing more or less than preserving their top-flight status, “and we're thinking of nothing else at all", Shechter confirmed.
Aiming for Brazil
The man capped 11 times by Israel, who last appeared at the FIFA World Cup™ in 1970, harbours lofty ambitions with the national team as well. Shechter and company are determined to make up for previous disappointments, including missing out on UEFA EURO 2012, by fighting all the way for a place at Brazil 2014.
Shechter said of his country's failure to reach Poland/Ukraine 2012: “The quality of the opposition was unbelievably high. We gave it our best shot, but we never lived up to our potential in the crucial matches and made too many mistakes. Our target now is the next tournament, and we'll see if we can realise our dream."
However, the qualifying campaign is bound to be tough, as the Israelis have been grouped with Portugal, Russia, Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg. Shechter said: “There's so much quality there, with superstars from all the big leagues. We'll do the best we can, and we’ll have to rise above ourselves. It'll be unbelievably tough, but anything can happen in football, can't it?”