It may have only been a matter of time with Maccabi Haifa winning just one of nine Premier League matches, but the sacking of Reuven Atar on Tuesday still sent shockwaves through Israeli sports.

Atar arrived at Haifa this past summer with sky-high expectations, being one of the club’s all-time greatest players, and arguably its most adored.

The 43-year-old spent much of the past eight years at Maccabi Netanya, while also leading Betar Jerusalem to the State Cup in 2009.

He returned to Netanya for a third tenure three years ago, and despite having only a meager budget at his disposal, guided the team to a fourth-place finish and Europa League qualification last season.

Haifa owner Jacob Shahar eventually succumbed to the fans’ calls to appoint Atar as coach, but with Haifa picking up just seven points from nine matches – leaving it in 13th position out of 14 teams – he decided a change must be made.

“This is the most difficult decision I have made in my 20 years as owner,” Shahar claimed on Tuesday. “I love Reuven and value him as a player and a coach, but our situation forced me to take this decision, with Haifa’s best interests being my only concern.”

While Atar’s failure to build a cohesive unit from a squad which was supposed to battle for the championship was the main reason he was fired, his departure was likely also hastened by his decision to drop captain Yaniv Katan ahead of Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Hapoel Ramat Hasharon.

Shahar expects to be updated with such contentious decisions, but he only found out about it when Katan called him.

Atar seemed close to breaking down in tears following Haifa’s 1-1 draw with Bnei Yehuda nine days ago, speaking about how the team reached a “catastrophic situation” before apologizing to fans and saying that he is “ashamed” of what has unfolded since he took charge.

Nevertheless, two days after his near-meltdown, Atar was in a combative mood once more as he spoke confidently about leading Haifa out of its crisis.

“I’m not giving up and I will never give up,” Atar said just last week. “Clearly we are in a bad situation, but I still believe. I believe that together with the players we can get the team out of this situation. Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom before you begin to climb back up."

“As crazy as this may sound to all the skeptics, you will see that in two months time everything will be different,” he added.

Things are indeed very different, with Haifa now searching for a replacement for Atar, who was given a lucrative three-year contract.

Ran Ben-Shimon, who led Ironi Kiryat Shmona to the championship last season, likely tops Shahar’s wish-list, but he is currently under contract at AEK Larnaca of Cyprus.

In the meantime, Arik Benado, who coach’s Haifa’s youth team, will guide the senior side in training ahead of Monday’s match against Bnei Sakhnin.

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