While Maccabi Tel Aviv only officially clinched its second straight Premier League championship on Saturday night, its preparations for next season are already well underway.
Jewish-Canadian owner Mitch Goldhar, who was at Vasermil Stadium on Saturday to see the yellow-and-blue’s 2-1 triumph over second-place Hapoel Beersheba, will remain in Israel over the next few days and hold meetings with sports director Jordi Cruyff and general manager Jack Angelides to try and finalize the club’s plans for the 2014/15 campaign.
While claiming a third consecutive league title – something which has been achieved only by Maccabi Haifa (2004-06) in the past 50 years – will be the priority for Maccabi, reaching the Champions League group stage for the second time in club history will be the focus initially.
Tel Aviv will begin its qualifying campaign in the second round and will find out who it will face on June 23. Maccabi still has three more league matches to play this season, the last of which in two weeks. However, the players will already be back in training four weeks later to ensure they will be ready for the second qualifying round, which will be played on July 15/16 and July 22/23.
Unlike this season, Maccabi will be seeded in the third qualifying round as well as the second thanks to its progress to the Europa League round-of-32, meaning it will not face the likes of FC Basel, which sent it packing in the third round last year, at such an early stage.
However, the yellow-and-blue is not likely to be seeded in the final playoff round and could come up against Basel again or the likes of Scotland’s Celtic or Romania’s Steaua Bucharest for a place in the group stage.
While there has been speculation linking the team’s Portuguese coach Paulo Sousa with a move to Europe, Maccabi believes he will be back for the second year of his contract, with Cruyff set to continue for a third straight season.
The entire core of the squad from this season is expected to remain at the club, including star midfielder and undoubted player-of-the-season Eran Zahavi, who recently signed a new five-year deal, with his upgraded yearly salary estimated to reach 600,000 euros.
Israel internationals, Eden Ben-Basat, Ben Sahar and Dan Mori, who all currently ply their trade abroad, have been mentioned as possible recruits, but there are no imminent deals.
“I’m very proud of the team,” said Cruyff. “We don’t have long to celebrate.
My job starts now. Reaching the Champions League group stage is still a dream for any Israeli club.”
Although Maccabi secured the championship with four matches to spare last season and with only three games remaining this time around, the team improved its success rate under Sousa, while also enjoying an extended continental campaign, a combination rarely achieved in Israeli soccer.
It is therefore h ardly surprising Goldhar was so delighted at wrapping up a record 20th title in club history.
“From one to 10 on the ‘happy meter’ I’m at 11,” Goldhar said after the win over Beersheba. “The past two championships are different. This was a different kind of a challenge, but I think it is as satisfying. It’s not the first championship after 10 years like last season, but it is extremely difficult to repeat.
“Right now we just won the championship and we don’t want to talk about next year. But we do want to continue and upgrade and get better in all respects. We will continue to look for ways to evolve. I don’t think it is necessarily about money. Money doesn’t necessarily equate into better play and higher standards. I think the culture is the most important thing. That’s my focus.”