Sinai Says: Matters go from bad to worse at fallen giant Maccabi Haifa

It seems as if Haifa has tried everything, especially ahead of the current campaign.

November 26, 2014 02:26
Maccabi Haifa coach Aliksandar Stanojevic

Maccabi Haifa coach Aliksandar Stanojevic . (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)

There is no shame in one bad season.

It happens to the very best.

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However, when a soccer club falls woefully short of expectations time and again, or in Maccabi Haifa’s case four years in a row, clearly a new approach is required.

It seems as if Haifa has tried everything, especially ahead of the current campaign. With Maccabi Tel Aviv dominating the Premier League over the past couple of years, owner Jacob Shachar significantly increased the club’s budget ahead of 2014/15. He brought in an expensive foreign coach in Aleksandar Stanojevic and lured back from Europe arguably Israel’s greatest ever player, Yossi Benayoun.

The return of Benayoun was part of a squad overhaul which saw seven new senior players arrive and almost double that amount leave. The fans were clearly optimistic, purchasing over 17,000 season tickets ahead of the club’s entry to the state-of-the-art Sammy Ofer Stadium, smashing the previous local record.

Everything was in place for Haifa to reclaim its position at the summit of Israeli soccer.

So how in the world do the Greens find themselves 14 points off Ironi Kiryat Shmona in first place a mere nine matches into the season? Haifa has already lost six games, and is just one point above the relegation zone. Only three teams have scored less than the nine goals it has so far managed.

After previously having just two coaches in nine years, Haifa has started each of the past three seasons with a different coach and Stanojevic has already tendered his resignation at least once.

Roni Levy (2003-2008) and Elisha Levy (2008-2012) guided the Greens to five championships over nine years, with Haifa claiming seven Premier League titles in 11 seasons following the turn of the century.

However, since Elisha Levy’s departure, Haifa has completely lost its way.

Haifa only finished its final season under Levy in fifth place, although it had just one point fewer than runner-up Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Reuven Atar lasted just nine matches and was sent packing only three months into a three-year contract the following season after the team had accumulated a mere seven points, only two fewer than Stanojevic has managed over the same period.

Arik Benado came in and led the side to a second-place finish, only to guide the Greens to 11 points from their first nine games last season on the way to fifth position.

His contract was not renewed and now it is Stanojevic who finds himself cast in the role of the scapegoat. If matters don’t improve soon, he too will be sent to the wilderness just like his past two predecessors.

Haifa’s 1-0 defeat at Ashdod SC on Saturday was its fifth in the past six matches, with the Greens only finding the back of the net once over their last five games.

“After the defeat to Ashdod I decided to leave,” Stanojevic told the players on Monday. “I thought and felt that it was the right thing to do for the team. I explained it honestly to the president who told me: ‘Aleks, I know what is good for my club and I want you to stay.’” Stanojevic’s conversation with the players was published on the club’s official website, probably in the hope that it would keep the supporters behind the coach and the side.

The transparency employed by Haifa seems to be working, with the 30,000 seats at Ofer Stadium set to be full for Sunday’s match against Hapoel Tel Aviv.

“The support of Jacob, the fans at the end of the match, which showed that they really believe in me, and the players, makes no sense,” Stanojevic continued.

“I have never seen anything like that in my life. I couldn’t look our fans in the eye after the match in Ashdod. I have never seen such support from fans in my life and it is unbelievable that the stadium will be full against Hapoel Tel Aviv.”

Stanojevic said that the show of support gave him the strength to continue and fight, and told the players that if they don’t begin to display a renewed commitment, they will soon be gone.

Cameroonian striker Mohammadou Idrissou was already released earlier this month due to disciplinary problems and the likes of Edin Cucalic, Weeam Amasha and Spanish midfielder Michel are all rumored to be on their way out once the January transfer window opens.

Celtic midfielder Biram Kiyal and Reims striker Eliran Atar are reportedly on the club’s shopping list for January, but by now it should be clear to Shachar that Haifa’s problems go beyond that.

Haifa has changed coaches on a yearly basis and has seen countless players come and go over recent seasons, only to keep finding itself back at square one.

Haifa needs to address the issue of who decides the identity of the coach and the players before anything else.

The Greens followed in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s footsteps by bringing in a foreign coach, but shouldn’t have stopped there. The main reason behind the yellow- and-blue’s success has been the work done behind the scenes by sporting director Jordi Cruyff.

Canadian owner Mitch Goldhar may have the final say at Mac TA, but the Dutchman is the one who singles out the coaching candidates and highlights the squads’ needs and the players required to address them.

Haifa doesn’t even have a person employed in such a position.

Benayoun is supposed to become the sporting director when he retires in a couple of years, but Haifa should have established such a role long ago.

At the moment, it is Shachar, with the guidance of good friend and superagent Pini Zahavi, who is in charge of all professional decisions at the club.

As the owner, Shachar is of course entitled to more or less do as he likes, especially considering his past successes.

However, the last few years have clearly proven that the methods of the past no longer cut it.

The lack of an adequate replacement and the fact that Shachar despises sacking coaches in the middle of the season (he has done so only once since 2000) are the only reasons Stanojevic still has his job.

Ultimately, it is the fans who will decide the coach’s fate. Once they turn against the Serbian, it will only be a matter of time until Shachar follows suit.

Shachar has promised Stanojevic he will make a further investment in January.

However, another defeat against Hapoel Tel Aviv on Sunday could mean he doesn’t even make it to December.

Shachar clearly has the best intentions, but more of the same simply won’t do.

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