Of course, very little could have been achieved without Mitch Goldhar’s money and vision.
The owner’s representative and general manager, Jack Angelides, also rarely gets the credit he deserves for his leadership role in the club’s success.
However, it is sports director Jordi Cruyff who is the true mastermind behind the resurrection of Maccabi Tel Aviv over the past two seasons.
Many eyebrows were raised when Cruyff was unveiled by Goldhar in April 2012.
“I’m confident things will be better,” he said at a press conference at Maccbai’s training complex in Kiryat Shalom, likely not quite envisioning the dramatic turnaround in the club’s fortunes.
Maccabi looks to be well on its way to claiming a second-straight Premier League championship after opening a six-point gap at the top of the standings thanks to Sunday’s 3-1 victory over Hapoel Beersheba at Bloomfield Stadium.
Despite remaining Israel’s most decorated club, Maccabi had won just a single league title in the 16 seasons prior to Cruyff’s arrival .
The yellow-and-blue hadn’t claimed the championship since the 2002/03 campaign, with its last significant title having come back in 2005 when it lifted the State Cup.
Despite a massive investment of funds, the team looked to be treading water in Goldhar’s first three years as boss after taking control of the club in the summer of 2009.
Those growing pains seem like distant memories now, with Maccabi winning the league title with four matches to spare and by a 13-point margin in 2012/13 before setting an even higher standard this season.
Maccabi’s victory on Sunday over its closest rival from the South – which is experiencing its own amazing season – was the team’s 17th win from 21 matches to date, with the yellow-andblue dropping just 10 out of a possible 63 points so far this term.
Tel Aviv has won 11 of its last 12 games, and is 17 points ahead of third-place Maccabi Haifa.
Beersheba has insisted all along that it isn’t targeting the championship this season after only slimly avoiding relegation in the last weekend of the past two campaigns. The gap in the depth between the Southerners and Maccabi was clear for all to see on Sunday.
Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa had the privilege of introducing costly signings Barak Itzhaki, Tal Ben-Haim and Barak Badash, while Beersheba coach Elisha Levy was forced to make do with a makeshift defense due to an injury crisis.
That resulted in 19-year-old Ben Elgravli being sent off less than seven minutes into the contest after his inexperience was exposed by veteran striker Rade Prica.
It is Cruyff who is not only in charge of building this squad, but of also accurately selecting the right man for the job of leading and molding the players into a winning team.
The departure of Oscar Garcia after just a single season as coach could have rocked the club, but Cruyff wasn’t going anywhere and he took his time before ultimately securing the signing of Sousa, who was always his first choice as Oscar’s successor.
Despite falling short of a place in the Champions League group stage – losing to FC Basel in the third qualifying round – Maccabi is also making strides in continental competition under Sousa, advancing to the knockout rounds in Europe for the first time in club history.
Maccabi collected 11 points and finished second to Eintracht Frankfurt in Europa League Group F and will face Basel once again next Thursday after being drawn to host the Swiss club in the first leg of the round-of-32.
The second leg will take place in Switzerland the following week.
With Bloomfield almost empty and only the hardcore Maccabi fans still in attendance, Cruyff was ambushed by his players, who organized an impromptu birthday celebration for the Dutchman, who turned 40 on Sunday.
The players threw him in the air and sprayed him with water while the club’s supporters sang his name, thanking him for the happiness he has helped bring them in recent times.
“Jordi, we love you and want you to stay for as long as possible,” was what captain Shiran Yeini chose to say to the man with which he negotiated a new contract extension not that long ago.
Maccabi finished 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, at least for as long as Cruyff remains at the club.
He is under contract until the end of next season and Goldhar would surely be happy to hand him a generous raise to keep him around for much longer.
However, Jordi, son of all-time great Johan Cruyff, and a former Barcelona and Manchester United player himself, never hid his ambition to ultimately move on to greener pastures.
“For me this is an important step up, but I hope that in 10 years everyone will also look back at my experience here as a positive one,” he said in his first press conference in Israel.
A report in the Spanish media in December linked him with a move to La Liga club Malaga and Goldhar must be dreading the day Cruyff calls him to announce his departure.
Nobody is irreplaceable, but it is hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than the one Cruyff has accomplished at Maccabi in the last two years.
It may be only a few months away, or perhaps a few more years further down the line, but Maccabi should already be preparing for the day after Cruyff.
While he is around, however, it is clear that Cruyff sees himself as responsible to safeguard Maccabi’s status at the top of Israeli soccer long after he’s moved on.
If Cruyff can manage to plan for the future anywhere near as well as he is taking care of the present, that is more than enough to keep Maccabi fans sleeping easily at night.