Name: Eyal Berkovic
Date of birth: 2 April 1972 Haifa, Israel
Position: Midfielder
Debut: Premier League, Barnsley 1-2 West Ham United, 9 August 1997
Final game: Premier League, West Ham United 4-0 Middlesbrough, 16 May 1999
Appearances: 79
Goals: 12

During his heyday, Eyal Berkovic always stood out in a crowd.

The cultured midfielder patrolled the Boleyn Ground with all the polish and poise of someone who had already won 45 international caps before his arrival in east London.

Routinely described as a 'gifted playmaker', Berkovic became an instant hero by scoring the decisive goal in a 2-1 win against Tottenham Hotspur on his Upton Park debut on 13 August 1997.

He would go on to play 79 times for the Hammers, scoring 12 goals and making countless others, in two full seasons.

He was well-liked by supporters but now, a little thinner on top and, by his own admission, not as fit as he once was, Berkovic is content to be in the background rather than centre-stage.

"The fans didn't recognise me at all," he said, sitting back on a sofa in an Upton Park office just an hour after watching last Sunday's win against Liverpool. "No-one recognised me because I have lost my hair. Not one person! I have also put on some weight which didn't help.

"I saw some of them looking at me and wondering. You could see they sort of knew me but didn't. One day I'll go on the pitch with a ball and remind them!"

On Sunday, the impish Israeli relished being able to savour from the stands an atmosphere that evoked many memories of the team he played in. These days, he works as a TV commentator and also has his own academy for young footballers back home in Haifa to keep him busy. "I feel good. It is very nice to be here. I am very excited.

"It is a long time since I have been back and it is nice to see more Israelis at the club. Last time I was here was when Yossi Benayoun played here. I came to visit him and now I come to visit Avram. It is excellent."

While a guest of his former manager, Berkovic reminded that he was "the first Israeli" at the Boleyn - before Benayoun, Yaniv Katan and Tal Ben Haim followed in his footsteps. He was part of a "special side" and a smile appeared as he remembered his old team-mates - including new reserve-team manager Steve Lomas.

"We had a very good team and lots of great players. We had Rio [Ferdinand], Frank [Lampard] and my best friend John Hartson! I just met Lomy again and it is nice that he is back at the club. It is good to remember. Now when I come back it is about looking back on the old days. There were lots of good memories, except for John's kick!"

That humorous mention of the well-documented training ground bust-up with the Wales striker prompted Berkovic to pass on his happiness at Hartson's good health after his cancer fight last year. "I am so happy to hear he is feeling good and I wish him all the best. He is a good man."

Berkovic and Hartson were more used to combining to good effect on the pitch - it was Hartson who scored the other goal in that 2-1 defeat of Spurs on his Boleyn bow - and the 38-year-old believed there was a real opportunity brewing for the current side to show their worth in similar fashion.

He was obviously impressed with how they won 3-1 against the previously rampant Reds.

"I spoke to Avram about this. I can see the team are playing with freedom, they pass the ball well and it was like when I was here. When I was at West Ham there were very good players and we made a good impact. They played very well and got results."

It takes one to know one and Berkovic was keen to hail the individual performance of Scott Parker. "A great player," he said, before adding: "I remember him very well.

"When he started at Charlton, I played against him a few times and I knew then he was special. I always had a very good fight with him. He used to mark me man-to-man and he has improved so much."

If Parker can continue in the same vein, Berkovic believes the team could well find their name on the FA Cup - even with the huge difficulty of an away quarter-final to come next week against today's visitors Stoke City - and stay up as well.

"It depends on the luck of Avram! This year he has had no luck. I saw a lot of games and you have deserved more than what you got. It is so important but maybe things are beginning to turn better.

"Believe me, you will be in the cup final," he concluded. It was a bold statement to make you sit up and take notice - just like he did with the ball at his feet as a Hammers hero.