It was as if he never even left.

Up to the podium stepped Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Oscar Garcia to speak about the team, its players and targets for the future, the same way he had done dozens of times in the past.

However, there was one big – perhaps crucial – difference. Oscar had been away for a year. He left Maccabi last summer after a single season in which he guided the club to its first Premier League championship in 10 years.

He held his first press conference as the returning Maccabi coach on Tuesday and slid right back into the role he said he only left due to personal reasons.

In many ways, Oscar’s return has made Paulo Sousa look like an interim fill-in. The Portuguese coach led Maccabi to a second straight league title last season and took the club to the Europa League round-of-32, but somehow he never neared the popularity of Oscar.

On the face of it, Sousa possesses far more charm than Oscar, but the soft-spoken and shy, smiling Spaniard earned a special place in the hearts of the Maccabi fans and looked to be right back at home on Tuesday at the yellowand- blue’s training complex in Kiryat Shalom.

“I’m a Maccabi fan and the Maccabi supporters now know that a fan is coaching the team,” said Oscar, whose command of the English language significantly improved in the season he spent at English Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion.

“I’m delighted to come back here. I want to realize my dream to play in Europe with Maccabi. I left for family reasons and most of these reasons have been solved. I’m really happy to have been chosen as Maccabi’s first option.”

The 41-year-old left the club just two days after its final match of the 2012/13 campaign, explaining that “some circumstances in life transcend professional matters and I have been forced to suddenly take this decision.”

Oscar never hid that one of the main reasons for his departure was due to his wish to be closer to Spain and his two daughters from his first marriage, especially with the concern raised by his family during Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

However, he traveled to Israel earlier this month with his wife and three daughters, including his two older daughters from his first marriage, to select his new apartment, which clearly indicated that he has their full support in his decision to return to the country.

Besides advancing his English in Brighton, Oscar also believes he has progressed as a coach in the past year.

“I improved a lot in one year and I want the same mentality from the players to try and improve every day,” he said.

Oscar is looking forward to trying to help Maccabi become just the second team in 52 years to win three consecutive championships and insisted that he is not taking a step back in his career by returning to Israel.

“To be honest, I didn’t expect to come back as soon as I did,” he admitted. “But if I felt it was a step down I wouldn’t be here. I feel it is another step up. I know Maccabi won the last two championships and it is a fantastic challenge for me and the club to try and win three straight.”

Oscar signed a two-year deal with Maccabi, but wouldn’t guarantee how long he will remain with the yellow-and-blue. However, he did sound like a coach willing to commit his near future to the club, which would give Maccabi the one thing it has lacked in its quest to dominate local soccer, stability in the coaching position.

“In football you never know what might happen next week,” he said. “In football you can’t plan anything in advance. But I can’t start in a place thinking I will leave. Hopefully everything will be okay and I can stay here for a long time.”

allon@jpost.com

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