Robert Earnshaw: 'I saw two rockets come across the sky'

Despite being caught up in the recent conflict in Israel, Maccabi's Robert Earnshaw tells Simon Hart in Tel Aviv that the choice of the country to host next summer's European U21 Championship is a good one

Robert Earnshaw stands on the hotel balcony, 11 floors up, and surveys the city spread out before him. On his left is a sparkling sliver of Mediterranean Sea, on his right a sprawl of pastel-coloured apartment blocks. In the mid-distance, he points out the sleek, high-rise tower he currently calls home; some 30 kilometres away, in the hazy backcloth, is the West Bank.

This is Tel Aviv, the place where the Cardiff City and Wales striker came in search of first-team football and where, for a few disquieting days in November, with missiles toing and froing between Gaza and Israel, he gained a taste of the fear that can be a recurring companion in this ancient, troubled corner of the globe.

On the day we meet, though, there is no sign of the recent hostilities that claimed six Israeli and more than 150 Palestinian lives – not here at the Hilton Hotel, with the sun shining and the cappuccinos served. "You look at it now and people don't think of Israel like this," Earnshaw reflects. For all the negative images, this is a place where "you've got the beach, you've got parks, you've got malls – you've got so much to do".

This is the Israel that Uefa hopes we will see at the European Under-21 Championship next June. It was at the Hilton that last Wednesday's draw took place – putting England in the easier group alongside the hosts, Italy and Norway, and away from Spain – and it is Earnshaw's belief that Stuart Pearce's England have nothing to fear off the pitch either from the first major football tournament on Israeli soil.

"This is the normality in Tel Aviv as you see it now. I don't think they've got anything to worry about," he says. "They are big on security [and] when there is a tournament like that here they'll be even stricter. I am sure this is the Tel Aviv that they'll see – the beach, the outgoing people."

The choice of Israel as tournament venue prompted a condemnatory letter last week signed by a cluster of footballers from Europe and beyond, including Chelsea's Eden Hazard, Arsenal's Abou Diaby, five players from Newcastle, and Didier Drogba. The ethical argument may well go on but from a footballing viewpoint, Earnshaw considers Israel fit for purpose.

Maccabi's own Bloomfield Stadium is one of the four venues along with Jerusalem, Netanya and Petah Tikva, and the Welshman says: "Some of the stadiums are not so great but then you've got some really nice ones. The new one in Netanya is a really nice stadium and the thing is the pitches are unbelievable – a really high standard."

Earnshaw has also seen for himself the determination of the Israeli FA to ensure the show goes on next summer. He recounts an aborted trip to watch Maccabi's home match against Bnei Yehuda on Saturday 17 November. "I got on to the motorway and started to hear the sirens go off. All the cars started stopping and I saw two rockets come across the sky. I thought they were missiles but they were actually the intercepters from the Iron Dome. I thought, 'God what am I seeing here in the sky?' My sister and son [two-year-old Silva] were here and they started calling straight away and were a little bit panicky so I went back home."

While Earnshaw, injured at the time, headed home, the fixture went ahead despite the misgivings of the club's Spanish management team, taking place at the behest of IFA president Avraham Luzon who, it has been suggested, did not want Uefa to see the abandonment of a high-profile fixture so close to the draw.

That incident came three days into a conflict in which the air-raid sirens sounded in Tel Aviv for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War. Up to then, the region's tensions had felt "far away" for Earnshaw, but not any longer. "We were training and the siren goes off," he recalls. "The Israeli guys went off towards the building; we were asking, 'Why is there a siren?' I thought it was a drill or a precaution, then about a minute later we heard a big boom, and it was real.

"You take cover for 10 minutes, go under shelter, and then after 10 minutes you come out," he adds. "For about five days, it was every day. The Iron Dome, the defence system here, is very good but it's not 100 per cent, that's the thing, so when you hear all these things going off, it is not a great experience to go through." There was a bus bombing five minutes from his home yet amid it all, he discovered, life went on. "It is rockets, missiles, and then half an hour later everybody is in a restaurant or coffee shop, and I'm thinking, 'Is this the same place I was at half an hour ago?'."

Earnshaw arrived in Israel in September, lured by the promise of regular football denied him at Cardiff and by the "appealing" picture that general manager Jordi Cruyff, once a Manchester United player, sold him of arguably "the biggest club in Israel". The prospect of working with coach Oscar Garcia, previously in charge of Barcelona's youth team, and thus gaining an insight into the methods of La Masia – "all the habits, the football, the small-sided games" – was another persuasive factor.

He continues: "Coming abroad is not for me going off the radar – it is actually getting on the radar. Maccabi Tel Aviv were in the Europa League last year. Playing at Cardiff I wouldn't be looking at the possibility of European football. People have to realise that I could be in the Champions League in six months' time – that was a big factor, to try and get the club into it."

Injuries have limited his contribution for the Ligat ha'Al leaders, though he scored his second goal in a cup tie against Hapoel Haifa last Tuesday. "It is a season-long loan. In January there are possibilities it could carry on till the end of the season or not, but we'll see." Whatever happens, this has been an eye-opening experience for the 31-year-old, whose career began at Cardiff and includes spells at West Bromwich, Norwich, Derby and Nottingham Forest, with 166 league goals.

He is enjoying the buzz of Israel's commercial capital, home to some 400,000 people. "After one game we went to a restaurant, it was about one in the morning and the place was packed. It is always busy, no matter what time of day, and the food is incredible." Sightseeing trips have proved memorable too, not least one to Jerusalem. "We went into the old city where Jesus was taken from the cross and laid out [the Church of the Holy Sepulchre], and the Wailing Wall, where everybody is praying and you get all the different religions together. I'm not really religious but when you go there, you feel the religion.

"The Dead Sea was the craziest thing ever," he adds. "It is so weird when you go in the sea and can't go down and you float – the water keeps you up." Weird is the least of it in Earnshaw's life outside the comfort zone.

My other life

I've always been into clothing and style. My interest started a long time ago, and I've now started to design clothes under the label Mr Msongo, a name from Zambia where I was born, including the grey hoodie I'm wearing (see pic). I work on the clothes myself together with help from a designer, and sell them online.

Up to speed: Spanish lessons in Tel Aviv

Working with Spanish coaches, it's a more thinking game and there's a lot of things I've picked up on which have made me a better player already – very small points that maybe you overlook when you play in England sometimes.

They're very big on movement. A lot of people think you have to run around as much as you can, but sometimes you have to stand still, get the right ball; it's about the movement, where you move, why you're moving there. You're thinking before you move.

When Gary Speed had the Wales job, that's what we started to do and it's good that I had some experience of that and it's great I have it again now. At Wales we improved dramatically under Gary Speed and it has been very similar here. I might become a manager or coach one day and if I do these are the things I'm going to look back on.

Sport
Lionel Messi pictured after reaching the final
world cup 2014
Sport
Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller have shone brightest for Argentina and Germany respectively on their way to the World Cup final
Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?