When Hapoel Tel Aviv begin their play-off bid for the Ligat ha-Al title this Easter Monday, the 12-time Israeli champions will be looking to one man in particular to fire them to glory: Toto Tamuz.

The 23-year-old netted an impressive 19 goals during the regular season to top the scoring charts in the nation of seven million inhabitants. "I think I'm having a good season, but there is still room for improvement," said Tamuz in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.

The reigning champions, who competed in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League this season, finished five points behind league leaders Maccabi Haifa in second. However, their chief goalgetter is still confident his side can retain the championship trophy they claimed for the first time in a decade last year.

"We have a good chance of winning the title this season," continued Tamuz. "I would swap my position as top scorer for the title any day, because the team is always more important than any one individual."

Difficult childhood
This kind of modesty and reserve is precisely what makes the Nigerian-born front-man such a likeable character. 'Toto', as his colleagues call him on and off the field, is always smiling and by all accounts a very contented individual, though fate has not always dealt him the kindest hand.

At the age of just two, the young Tamuz left Nigeria for his adopted homeland when his father, former Nigeria international Clement Temile, signed for Beitar Netanya. However, when the club ran into financial difficulties, Tamuz's parents had to make the impossible decision of returning to Nigeria and leaving their son behind with one of his father's colleagues.

Hapoel have a great team and the atmosphere in the dressing room and on the pitch couldn't be better.

Toto Tamuz, Hapoel Tel Aviv forward.

"It was divine intervention which brought me here to Israel. I don't like to think what may have happened if I didn't live here," said an ultimately thankful Tamuz.

The forward is also immensely grateful to his adoptive mother, Orit Tamuz, for a loving and caring upbringing: "My mother is very important to me. She made me the man I am today. She's a huge part of my life."

Tamuz, who turned 23 on 1 April, is still in regular contact with his biological parents, who are no doubt equally proud of their son's achievements: "We chatted on the telephone recently for my birthday, which was nice."

Breakthrough at just 16
Measuring in at 5'10, the powerful marksman made his professional debut in Israel's top flight seven years ago, bursting onto the scene for hometown club Hapoel Petah Tikva at just 16 years of age with two goals against FC Ashdod.

"It was great playing for a club in the top league at such a young age. It helped me mature mentally and also made me physically stronger - on and off the pitch." And after two subsequent years with Beitar Jerusalem, with whom he celebrated two league titles and two cup triumphs, Tamuz made the move to Tel Aviv last summer.

"The transfer was a good decision because it's done my career a lot of good. Hapoel have a great team and the atmosphere in the dressing room and on the pitch couldn't be better. The club has been challenging for the title for years, something which was very important to me," explained the prolific No99.

The change of club has hardly affected Tamuz' hunger for goals either. Indeed, this season's tally of 19 is a personal best for the striker, who has never managed to find the net as many times in five previous seasons in the Ligat ha-Al.

If the Nigerian-born Israeli can continue banging in the goals as he has done this campaign, a return to Luis Fernandez's national squad is a real possibility. Tamuz has made ten senior appearances for Israel since 2006, and would clearly love the opportunity to add to his tally of international caps.

"It's a great feeling to represent your country," said Tamuz, as the interview concluded. "What's more, I think I'm in better form now than I was back then (when I first broke into the Israel team)."