The most worrying part for Maccabi Tel Aviv’s rivals is not that the yellow-and-blue won its second straight Premier League championship on Saturday night.
Their biggest concern should surely be that this is only the beginning. The beginning of a period of potentially unrivaled dominance in Israeli soccer.
Maccabi is a long way from equaling Hapoel Petah Tikva’s run of five consecutive championships (1959- 63). In fact, since those great Petah Tikva sides, only Maccabi Haifa has managed to claim three straight league titles (2004-06).
But Maccabi Tel Aviv has every intention of being the next to do so next season. Maccabi has proven that it is head and shoulders above the rest of the league in the past two campaigns, claiming the championship with four matches to spare last season and with three games to play this term.
However, as wide as the gap is from the rest of the pack at the moment, Maccabi plans to widen it even further in the coming years.
After seeing his team clinch the title with a 2-1 win over Hapoel Beersheba at Vasermil Stadium on Saturday night, Jewish-Canadian owner Mitch Goldhar made sure the players understood he is still far from content.
“Individually you are obviously amazing but together you are wow,” he told the jubilant players in the dressing room. “But it’s just started. I really feel that we have just started the job.”
After wrapping up the championship last season, the club’s first in 10 years, there was one word that kept resurfacing when Goldhar shared his thoughts with the media.
“Everything is a process,” he explained. “This is the result of the process.”
Time and again, Goldhar emphasized the challenging process the organization had to endure before ultimately tasting glory, as well as the ongoing development at Maccabi.
To someone watching Goldhar for the first time, he seemed almost like a man obsessed. But Goldhar has been preaching about the process since day one and he finally held a piece of silverware in his hands to prove his vision was correct.
“I really was more concerned with how we developed as an organization and as a club,” said Goldhar. “I always felt it is a process and it still is a process.
It’s not over. And if we stick to the process we will eventually slowly emerge as a force.”
Maccabi ensured it had continuity working in its favor by holding on to as many pieces as it could in the summer.
Coach Oscar Garcia may have left, while top scorer Eliran Atar and goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama also moved on to Europe. But crucially, sports director Jordi Cruyff stuck around and ensured the club remained on course.
When Cruyff joined the club, Maccabi had won just a single league title in the previous 16 seasons.
The yellow-and-blue hadn’t won the championship since the 2002/03 campaign, with its last significant title coming back in 2005 when it lifted the State Cup.
Despite a massive investment, the club looked to be treading water in Goldhar’s first three years as boss since he took control in the summer of 2009.
Those seem like distant memories now.
The departure of Oscar after just a single season as coach could have rocked the club, but Cruyff ultimately secured the signing of successor Paulo Sousa, who was always his first choice for the position.
Despite falling short of a place in the Champions League group stage, losing to FC Basel in the third qualifying round, Maccabi advanced to the knockout rounds in Europe for the first time in club history, reaching the Europa League round-of-32.
Maccabi finishing the season prior to Cruyff’s arrival in sixth place, missing out on European qualification for the first time since the 2009/10 campaign.
For a second straight season, Goldhar had sacked a coach during the campaign, showing Moti Ivanir the door less than a year after having fired his predecessor, Avi Nimni.
Maccabi is a model of stability now, and should remain so for as long as Cruyff remains at the club.
He indicated on Saturday that he plans to fulfill the third and final year of his contract, although he did reveal that he has received offers from clubs across Europe.
Cruyff, son of all-time great Johan, and a former Barcelona and Manchester United player himself, has never hid his ambition to ultimately move on to bigger clubs.
“For me this is an important step up, but I hope that in 10 years time everyone will also look back at my experience here as a positive one,” he said in his first press conference in Israel.
The evolution of the club under Goldhar may have taken longer than expected, but by the process of trial and error, Maccabi finally found its way.
And unlike the likes of Arkadi Gaydamak - the prototype of foreign owners in Israeli soccer who, like Icarus, flew too close to the sun due to hubris - the level-headed Goldhar has proven that he has a clear plan for the club and he intends on sticking to it.
Maccabi may have won a record 20th championship on Saturday, but it has claimed just three league titles since 1996 and only six in the last 35 years.
Goldhar wants to build a dynasty in Tel Aviv and the past two seasons give him the foundation to do so.
While Bloomfield has its charm, as well as a long history, Maccabi has looked into building a new stadium over the past year, understanding that it needs a bigger and better home in order to increase its revenue and continue to evolve as a club.
Maccabi took another small, yet significant step, last Thursday when it opened its new merchandise shop on Dizengoff street in Tel Aviv after years of selling goods from a caravan beside its training ground. The club believes the store will help double its current income from merchandise and reach around NIS 6 million a year.
Step by step, the yellow-and-blue is strengthening its stranglehold on local soccer.
Maccabi continues to raise the bar, and only time wil tell how high it can take it.
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