Twenty-year-old Trinidad and Tobago winger Levi Garcia will spend his immediate future in north Israel, after agreeing to swap the Dutch Eredivisie for Israeli Premier League club Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona FC.
For Garcia, the surprise move ends a two and a half year spell in the Netherlands top flight that brimmed with potential at one point but eventually ended without a contract offer from either of his two employers there.
Garcia scored one goal in each of his first two seasons with AZ Alkmaar and once on loan to SVB Excelsior—for a total of three goals from 45 Eredivisie appearances. He played for 90 minutes in just four of those outings.
And, with his contract with AZ due to expire, there has been no offer of a renewal from that club or Excelsior. Wired868 understands that the Israel Premiership was seen as a chance for Garcia to rebuild his rhythm and confidence—while earning a good wage—before a possible return to a top-flight European club.
Ironi Kriyat Shmona are poised to finish as champions in the eight-team Israeli League, which sees clubs face each other four times during the regular season. Already, they are assured of European football, since Israel became a UEFA member in 1994—as a means of avoiding inevitable conflicts during competitive fixtures against their Arab neighbours.
Israeli Premier Division clubs are allowed six foreigners and Garcia will join Marcus Diniz, Lucas Serafim (both Brazil), Afonso Taira (Portugal), Miloš Radivojević (Serbia) and Nigel Hasselbaink (Suriname/Netherlands) at his new employers.
The 27-year-old Hasselbaink, who was born in the Netherlands but is capped by Suriname, is the nephew of former Netherlands and Chelsea forward Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Garcia’s new home town, Kiryat Shmona, is situated near Israel’s border with Lebanon and has been targeted by rocket strikes during times of Hezbollah-led unrest. But it has not faced any such shelling in 12 years.
Otherwise, it is a small town—Kiryat’s population of 23,000 is almost identical to that of Laventille or Tunapuna—whose economy is built on communications, information technology and electronics as well as agriculture and tourism. The residents there are over 93 percent Jewish and mostly of Moroccan extraction.
It is, arguably, the first hiccup in Garcia’s career so far. He was just 17 when he travelled to the Netherlands for trials and so impressed the coaching staff at AZ that they agreed terms even before they could legally sign him on his 18th birthday.
He was 18 years and 65 days old when he became the youngest ever Trinidad and Tobago player to feature in a European top-flight match. The following weekend—on 30 January 2016—Garcia became his country’s youngest ever scorer at that level too, as he struck within three minutes of coming off the bench in a 3-0 win away to NEC.
Both records were previously held by Trinidad and Tobago’s most celebrated export, Dwight Yorke.
Garcia made a storming debut to his senior international career too, as he came on as a substitute to score twice in Arnos Vale when the Soca Warriors recovered from a 2-1 deficit to win 3-2 in a vital 2018 World Cup qualifier. In the process, he also became T&T’s youngest scorer in a senior FIFA contest.
Garcia has played 15 times for Trinidad and Tobago since, 11 of those caps coming with him on the starting XI. But he is yet to score again in red, white and black strip.
In 2017, reputable British football magazine Four Four Two named Garcia as the 37th best teenager in the world:
“Garcia has already been tipped for greatness by Marco van Basten, and broken a couple of Dwight Yorke records. The Trinidadian packs sprinter’s pace, hypnotic trickery and, unlike several wingers, is hard to knock off the ball. He can’t half whack a ball, too, according to Van Basten—an apt judge of a venomous shot.”
One place behind Garcia in Four Four Two’s 2017 ranking was Ajax attacker Justin Kluivert, son of former Netherlands star Patrick Kluivert. But, just a year later, Kluivert is the subject of enquiries from England powerhouse Manchester United and flirting with Spanish champions, Barcelona.
Garcia, on the other hand, is off to Israel where he hopes to regain his mojo.