There is the “Midas Touch” and then – at the extreme other end of the spectrum –
there is what is quickly becoming known as the “Luzon Touch.”
to Greek mythology, King Midas had the ability to transform everything he put
his hands on into gold.
Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon,
on the other hand, seems to turn everything he gets his paws on into
After all, how difficult should it have been to extend the
contract of Israel national team coach Eli Gutman? You make the decision, you
notify the coach and you send out a press release.
But not with Luzon.
For the countless time, he managed to
drag the IFA’s reputation through the mud, make a mockery of himself and the way
local soccer is run, while also embarrassing poor Gutman.
On the face of
it, last week’s announcement that a committee had been set up to select the
Israel coach seemed like a good idea.
The fact that three of its five
members – Luzon, his deputy Stern Haluba and IFA CEO Rotem Kemer – were IFA
buddies didn’t bode well, but the committee was at least given some credibility
by former Israel international star Tzvika Rosen and former national team coach
Six days later – and before the committee had met even one
time – Luzon declared on Sunday that Gutman will continue as the Israel coach
for two more years.
According to the IFA’s announcement, there was no
longer any need for a committee as Luzon and Haluba made a joint decision to
extend the coach’s contract, which will only be made official when the
association’s secretariat approves it next week.
The press release
stressed that the decision was approved by the IFA’s legal advisor and that
Rosen and Kashtan agreed the committee should be broken up.
believed that Luzon was worried the committee may end up appointing former
Israel international and current agent Avi Nimni together with Israel youth team
coach Eli Ohana as Gutman’s replacements.
It would have been truly
ridiculous had an agent who failed miserably when he guided Maccabi Tel Aviv and
a youth team coach whose teams have experienced more relegation than success in
his time as a club coach would have been handed the most important coaching
position in local soccer.
But the idea seemed to be gathering steam once
the committee was set up and Luzon felt he had to foil a decision which, in his
mind, would have turned the IFA into a laughing stock.
So he disbanded
the committee just as quickly as he assembled it and once more made a joke of
himself by infinitely complicating the simplest of matters.
ultimately got this decision right, but yet again only did so after making every
possible mistake along the way.
It is easy to fault Gutman on Israel’s
2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
While the team’s third-place finish
behind Russia and Portugal and failure to advance to the World Cup was hardly a
surprising development, the blue-and-white’s displays in many of the qualifiers
were a bitter disappointment.
Apart from its two emphatic wins over
rock-bottom Luxembourg, Israel managed just one victory from eight matches, an
impressive 2-0 triumph over Northern Ireland in Belfast.
There was also
no shame in the two draws against Portugal, but the two stalemates with
Azerbaijan, the two emphatic defeats against Russia and finally the frustrating
home draw against Northern Ireland meant the side recorded its worst campaign
since Euro 2004 qualification.
Israel did manage to score 19 goals, its
second-best tally of all-time behind the 25 goals netted in Euro 2000
However, Gutman’s men also recorded the national team’s
second-worse defensive campaign, conceding 14 goals. The only time Israel
allowed more goals in a campaign was way back in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers
when the blue-and-white let in 25 goals and finished bottom of its
But whether Gutman deserved to continue or not, the simple truth
was that there was no other coach out there – one willing to guide the national
team – who would afford the blue-and-white a better chance of reaching Euro 2016
Gutman’s inexperience was demonstrated by the fact that he
used 35 different players in the qualifying campaign, more than his past three
predecessors in the job, and the third most among the 53 national teams which
played in the UEFA qualifying groups.
However, Gutman has proven in the
past that he learns from mistakes, and he deserves another chance considering
every one of Israel’s coaches over the past two decades, who has been given
another opportunity, has gone on to achieve greater success with the team in his
There is every reason to believe that Gutman in
particular will prosper in the long term and the coming campaign looks to be
Israel’s best chance ever to participate in a major competition since its one
and only appearance in the World Cup in 1970.
With 24 teams to qualify
for Euro 2016 – eight more than in recent European Championships – the group
winners, runners- up, and the best third-placed team will all advance
The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest
home-and-away playoffs for the four remaining berths, meaning Israel will be
expected at the very least to reach a decisive tie for
Luzon should have handed Gutman a long-term four-year
contract to start with and should have definitely not made his coach feel as if
he is only keeping his job because he is the best among many bad options (even
if that is exactly the case).
It is somewhat remarkable that Luzon
managed to screw up what should have been one of the easiest decisions he has
ever made with the committee-that-never-was.
At least there shouldn’t be
any long-term consequences to the chaos Luzon caused, although he somehow yet
again found a new way to tarnish the IFA’s already tainted