The summer is a wonderful time for every soccer fan.
The World Cup and Euro tournaments on even years obviously garner much of the attention, but the hottest months of the year are also the time when club sides often reinvent themselves, sparking the imagination of their supporters across the world.
There may not be any actual game action for clubs, but big-name signings and coaching changes inject hope that the upcoming season will be better than the last and that their dreams of glory will finally be realized.
However, there is always another side to the coin.
There aren’t many things which worry supporters of a club more than a quiet summer.
Even if their team is coming off a championship-winning campaign, inaction in the off-season will inevitably raise the fears of fans that a downward spiral is awaiting just around the corner.
Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer fans aren’t getting too concerned just yet, but they will be soon should the team continue to stagnate on the transfer market.
In fact, it could get even worse than that, with captain Sheran Yeini, and especially star midfielder Eran Zahavi, both potentially on the verge of leaving the club after attracting interest from abroad.
Less than a week before next Tuesday’s Champions League second qualifying round first leg, Maccabi has made just one significant signing, bringing in Israel national team defender Yuval Spungin from Belgium’s Mons. The yellow-and-blue has also signed Ben Reichert from Hapoel Ramat Hasharon, but the 20-year-old is regarded as more of a long-term project who isn’t expected to play a major role in the upcoming season.
The club has so far managed to retain the services of the entire core of last season’s triumphant side, but that will do little to quell the concerns of fans who are hoping the team can qualify for the Champions League group stage for the second time in club history and the first since the 2004/05 season.
Maccabi was knocked out in the third qualifying round of the Champions League last season, falling 4-3 on aggregate to FC Basel. Tel Aviv went on to reach the Europa League roundof- 32, ultimately losing to Basel once more.
The biggest change from last season will of course be in the coaching position, with Oscar Garcia replacing Paulo Sousa.
However, as delighted as the club’s fans were with Oscar’s return to the club after one year in England, he hardly qualifies as a new and exciting name at the helm.
Oscar’s primary target will be to guide the team to a third straight Premier League title, something only Maccabi Haifa (2004-06) has managed in the past 50 years since Hapoel Petah Tikva’s run of five consecutive championships (1959-63).
Maccabi has proven itself to be head and shoulders above the rest of the league in the past two campaigns, claiming the championship with four matches to spare in 2012/13 and with three games to play last season.
Even without any new additions, Maccabi’s current squad will still be the favorite to claim another championship in 2014/15.
The fans seem happy enough for the time being, with over 10,000 of them already renewing their season tickets, ensuring Bloomfield Stadium will be sold out once more this season.
However, their hopes of seeing the team on the biggest stage continental soccer has to offer diminish with every day that passes without the squad being strengthened.
A new striker remains at the top of sporting director Jordi Cruyff’s list, but he has so far failed time and again to lure in his targets.
Tomer Hemed ultimately decided against a return to Israel, moving from RCD Mallorca to La Liga side UD Almeria, while Omer Damari opted to sign a contract extension at Hapoel Tel Aviv, saying he doesn’t want to play for any other club in Israel.
Maccabi’s chase of Eden Ben-Basat and midfielder Lior Refaelov is ongoing, but both seem intent on remaining in Europe, leaving the yellow-andblue to pursue players further down the wanted list.
The team’s second signing seems set to be 27-year-old midfielder Nikita Rukavytsya, who played for FSV Frankfurt of the German second division last season and should be eligible for Israeli citizenship thanks to his Israeli wife.
Cruyff has been honest enough to admit that the squad does indeed need bolstering, but he didn’t sound too worried when he returned with the team from Austria late Sunday night.
“The training camp was very good,” he said. “The players got used again to practice and to Oscar and I think it was a good trip.
“The transfer period only closes in September and we are still in July so there is still a long time to go,” he added. “It is also very important to try and bring what we need and not just numbers and sometimes it is not easy to find the right player, but I’m sure we will manage.”
Cruyff is correct, of course. Maccabi is not expected to have any trouble coming through the second qualifying round and has still got three more weeks until the first leg of the third qualifying round. The play-off for a place in the group stage won’t be played for another six weeks, a few days before the 2014/15 Premier League season gets underway.
There is still plenty of time for changes, both positive and negative.
If the experience of the last two years has taught Maccabi fans anything, it is that they need to put their trust in Cruyff.
After such an uneventful start to the summer transfer window, that is all they can really do.
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