Marathon Man Jaka Ihbeisheh chases another promotion

Six years ago a little known Slovenian midfielder declared for Palestine. It happened relatively quickly and with little fanfare. Unlike others foreign born players who declared for Palestine at the same time. No will he, won’t he saga, no Facebook fan group dispensing news of every league game. Jaka Ihbeisheh just showed up and got to work.

A surprise inclusion in Palestine’s AFC Asian Cup squad in 2015 he fully justified his presence by putting in a combative performance against Jordan and scoring Palestine’s lone goal at the tournament in that same game.

Ihbeisheh had fielded more than one question on that goal, one that appeared to be nothing more than a meaningless consolation in a rout. His legacy with the national team will forever be inextricably linked to that goal; but it strangely overlooks a lot of good appearances that came after that goal.

Sixteen caps yielded 13 starts, 3 goals, and an assist. Ihbeisheh was on the pitch for some of the biggest results Palestine produced in the run up to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Finals.

The 0-0 in Al-Ram vs. UAE? Ihbeisheh started. The 6-0 against Malaysia in Jordan? Ihbeisheh started, switched positions, and scored. The 7-0 vs. Timor Leste in Hebron? Ihbeisheh scored the opener and assisted.

In the middle of his national team career he found a new niche as a right back- one that has allowed him to prolong his career into a new decade.

Ihbeisheh’s contributions to the team were reduced in 2018 and 2019 he always maintained a positive disposition. The Nabulsi by way of Ljubljana was one of only eight holdovers to be included in Palestine’s 2019 AFC Asian Cup squad but did not get to play in the UAE. In spite of this, Ihbeisheh was effusive in praise for the man ahead of him in the pecking order, “A great player, fantastic endurance always contributing in attack and just getting up and down” he said of Mus’ab Al-Battat in 2019.

While Ihbeisheh’s plaudits might be underappreciated in certain circles in Palestine that isn’t the case in Slovenia. The 34 year old has played for 12 clubs in the country on either side of a two year stint in Qatar and Thailand.

Jaka Ihbeisheh finds himself back where he was as a teenager- chasing promotion to the Prva Liga- 15 years ago he was with his boyhood club NK Interblock and now he’s with NK Radomlje.

If that storyline sounds familiar it’s because Ihbeisheh was in the same situation with NK Bravo two years ago– and successful guided them to the Prva Liga then.

Jaka Ihbeiseh was a staple with NK Bravo last season, appearing in 21 league matches in Slovenia’s top tier but the Coronavirus pandemic necessitated a rethink at the start of the 2020/21 season. A desire to play week-in, week-out led him back to the Druga Liga and NK Radomlje. With 40% of the league matches played, the gamble has paid off. Jaka Ihbeisheh has started every single match and has only missed 9 minutes of action- making him the most utilized outfield player in the side.

Even better, NK Radomlje is flying having won 11/12 games and maintain a three point lead at the summit of the Druga Liga at the time of writing.

Should they continue at this pace, Ihbeisheh may just experience the joy of promotion for the fourth time in his career. With close to 300 league appearances under his belt, two Asian Cup finals, and Palestine’s only goal at a major finals tournament there does not seem much left for Ihbeisheh to accomplish. That said, Jaka seems far from the finish line.

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