Two days after the shock departure of their coach, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s players look to keep alive their Europa League campaign when they face Asteras of Greece in the second leg of the playoffs in Larnaca, Cyprus, on Thursday.
Maccabi is aiming to come back from a two-goal deficit for the first time in more than 20 years of European competition after dropping to a 2-0 defeat to Asteras in the first leg in Greece last week.
Coach Oscar Garcia left Maccabi on Tuesday, less than three months after he rejoined the club on a two-year deal and before the Premier League season has even begun. The Spaniard notified the players ahead of Tuesday morning’s training session and almost immediately left Israel without giving any explanation for his stunning move.
Maccabi announced the signing of 51-year-old Spanish coach Pako Ayestaran in the same statement in which it revealed Oscar’s departure, which it put down to the security situation.
Oscar’s only comment on the matter came on Twitter on Tuesday evening when he wrote: “In short I will explain my reasons as well as my version regarding my exit of Maccabi. Thank you to everybody.”
Oscar’s short statement and the reports that followed regarding a rift between the former coach and sporting director Jordi Cruyff shed another light on the Spaniard’s departure.
Cruyff did his best to stave off questions regarding the reasons behind Oscar’s abrupt exit when he tried to explain the unexpected developments on Tuesday.
“The explanations I received from Oscar were more personal, about the situation, than anything else. But I do feel the best thing is to wait until he comes with some kind of announcement and to hear it,” said Cruyff. “Anyway, whatever the reasons are it’s now mainly about Maccabi and about Thursday. We have to move on, we have a very important game on Thursday and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”
Striker Rade Prica also said in an interview to the Swedish media that there are several reasons behind Garcia’s decision.
“I don’t think he was scared, but clearly it is not as fun in Israel as it used to be,” he said before admitting at the airport ahead of Maccabi’s flight that he thinks Oscar left both due to the security situation and professional matters.
The 51-year-old Ayestaran has vast experience, serving as an assistant coach at Valencia (2009-2010, 2001-2004), Benfica (2008-2009), Liverpool (2004-2007) and Tenerife (2000-2001), the majority of the time under manager Rafa Benitez.
However, he has only been a head coach for the past two years, coaching Mexican second division side Estudiantes Tecos.
Ayestaran arrived in Israel on Wednesday and flew with the team to Cyprus shortly afterwards. However, he will not guide the side on Thursday and will watch the match from the stands with new assistants Jose Viela Urtasun and David Cenada Perez.
Logistical manager and former Hapoel Beersheba and Hapoel Ramat Hasharon coach Benny Tabak is set to guide the team with Cruyff on Thursday before Ayestaran steps into Oscar’s shoes.
League start postponed once more
Despite the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Israeli Premier League will not begin this weekend.
The league decided to postpone the start of the 2014/15 campaign by a week for the second time on Wednesday as matches can still not be held in Ashdod and Beersheba.
The IDF Home Front Command’s updated guidelines state that in locations within a range of 40 kilometers of the Gaza border, gatherings of 1,000 people or more are not to take place in open areas.
As a result, Ashdod SC can’t host Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Hapoel Beersheba is unable to welcome Beitar Jerusalem.
“In accordance with the decision we made on Sunday in which we decided not to start the league until matches can go ahead throughout the country, the league will not begin this weekend,” a league statement read.