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Goldhar patient as Mac TA searches for success
By ALLON SINAI
05/09/2012
Sinai Says: Mitch Goldhar deserves every praise for sticking by Maccabi unlike so many other owners.
 
Maccabi Tel Aviv will complete its third full season under the ownership of Mitch Goldhar this weekend and you can hardly blame the club’s fans for feeling despaired.

For a third straight year the yellow-and- blue faithful began the season with stratospheric expectations, only to see their hopes dashed before the campaign even hit the halfway mark.

Almost everyone connected with Maccabi was bitterly disappointed at ending each of the past two seasons in third place, especially as the team didn’t even come close to challenging for a first championship since 2002/03.

And matters only got worse this season.

Despite having by far the highest budget in the Premier League, Maccabi once more struggled desperately and looks set to hit a new low under Goldhar by missing out on European qualification for the first time since the 2009/10 campaign.

For a second straight season, Maccabi sacked its coach during the campaign, with Avi Nimni fired in January of last year and his replacement Moti Ivanir thrown out in December.

Making the situation even more frustrating for Maccabi supporters was the fact that Ivanir was seemingly sacked without the club having a secondary plan, with youth department manager Nir Levine taking charge on an interim basis and remaining at the helm in that capacity for the last five months.

Ivanir was sent packing after Tel Aviv’s title challenge unraveled following four straight defeats, but it remains a mystery why the club didn’t bring in a coach who could resurrect its campaign rather than a temporary replacement that ended up guiding the team for over half the season.

While many long suffering supporters have already lost hope, to his credit, Goldhar still believes he can turn around Israeli soccer’s most illustrious club, as is clearly evident from his signing of Jordi Cruyff as sports director.

The team’s failings in recent campaigns convinced Goldhar that he needed to create the position of sports director, which has rarely existed in Israeli soccer.

He eventually elected to bring in Cruyff, who joins Maccabi after two seasons in a similar position at Cypriot club AEK Larnaca.

The ex-Manchester United and Barcelona forward, son of the great Johan, landed in Israel on Tuesday to step up his preparations for next season, with several of the squad’s players to discover in the coming days that they will not be continuing next year.

However, the most pressing decision facing Cruyff and Goldhar is the identity of the team’s next coach.

Cruyff seems intent on bringing in a foreigner, the way he did in Cyprus, with Goldhar also believing that may be the solution to the team’s troubles after the disillusionment he experienced with local coaches.

However, it is unlikely Goldhar plans to spend the amount required to bring in a quality European coach.

If that is the case, there seems little sense in signing a foreigner, especially as that would mean that none of the four most important people in the club are Israeli, with the owner a Canadian, his representative in Israel a Cypriot (Jack Angelides) and the sports director a Dutchman.

However, the vast majority of the players remain Israeli and while there is some truth to the cliché that soccer is an international language, Maccabi would be taking it to a risky extreme by choosing a non-Israeli as its next coach.

Pressure levels at Maccabi will be as high as ever at the start of next season, and should the team get off to a rocky start, the press and fans will have little patience for a largely anonymous foreigner.

Goldhar cannot run his club according to the whims of the media or the team’s supporters, but the players will not be able to ignore the inevitable media circus that follows every crisis at Maccabi Tel Aviv.

An Israeli coach would help alleviate the pressure, especially Ran Ben-Shimon.

After guiding Ironi Kiryat Shmona to an extraordinary championship this season, Ben-Shimon is desperate to join Tel Aviv, looking to prove that he can succeed at a big club after lasting just eight matches at Maccabi before being fired early in the 2008/09 campaign.

Ben-Shimon is undoubtedly one of Israel’s top coaches and he will be able to bridge the cultural differences between the club’s management and its players.

The 41-year-old will also be afforded far more patience and credit in the court of public opinion, with his achievements at Kiryat Shmona to buy him time if and when Maccabi stumbles.

One can understand Goldhar’s desire to start completely anew with a foreign sports director and coach who have no connection with the ailments of the local game.

Goldhar deserves every praise for sticking by Maccabi unlike so many other owners, but such a dramatic jolt to the club is likely to result in aftershocks that will deny the Canadian the stability he so craves for his club.

Stability the like of which Ben-Shimon can provide.

allon@jpost.com
Follow Allon on Twitter: @AllonSinai
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