Israel's national team coach Eli Gutman.
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Eli Gutman said he followed his heart and head when he decided to join Hapoel Tel Aviv after being unveiled on Monday as the club’s new manager.
Gutman returns to the club he led to the Premier League and State Cup double six years ago, as well as a place in the Champions League group stage.
The 57-year-old’s four-year tenure as Israel coach came to an end last October, a day after the national team’s Euro 2016 qualifying campaign ended in bitter disappointment.
Gutman signed a three-and-a-half year deal at Hapoel, accepting an offer to fill a role established especially for him. He will be in charge of all professional matters, but will have a fulltime head coach working under him, with Guy Levy to continue at the club.
“I was at the club’s training complex today and I didn’t recognize it,” said Gutman on Monday. “It looks like a five star hotel. I think that if you are thinking of the long term, and owner Amir Kabiri is thinking of the long term, you need to set foundations like this complex.
“I left Hapoel for the Israel national team after taking it from rock bottom to the place at which it deserves to be.
I enjoyed every moment with Israel, but there is life after the national team and I’m back at this club because my heart and head told me it was the right thing to do.”
Kabiri tried to tempt Gutman to the team as soon as his tenure as Israel coach ended, but his financial demands and hopes of working abroad ended his candidacy at the time.
Gutman guided Hapoel between 2007 and 2011, winning the championship and cup in the 2009/10 campaign before leading it to the Champions League group stage for the first time in club history in 2010/11. He left the team the following summer and was named as the Israel coach in December 2011.
“Three months ago I talked to Kabiri, but it wasn’t fair to Hapoel or to me to accept his offer,” Gutman explained. “I felt mentally empty and that I needed to recharge my batteries.
I also told Kabiri that I wanted to look into coaching abroad. I had some offers but nothing I couldn’t say no to.
I agreed now to the same terms I was offered then.
“I gave Kabiri my word that if I return to coach in the Premier League it will be at Hapoel Tel Aviv.”
Gutman said that he always wanted Levy to continue as coach, especially as the club has already been through many shocks this season. Even before he signed his contract on Sunday, Gutman was already dictating the club’s transfer market strategy, including last week’s signings of Gai Assulin, Lotem Zino, Avihai Yadin and Alon Turgeman.
Despite Hapoel’s struggles so far this season, which see it currently sit just three points above the relegation zone, Gutman said the club’s bosses can’t be blamed of anything other than being optimistic.
“I told the players that Guy will determine the squad and lineup and that it will all be done in coordination with me,” explained Gutman. “Guy knows that I’m the top professional authority at the club.
“When I first arrived at Hapoel its position in the standings was even worse than now. We built a strong team at the time but unfortunately we couldn’t build a club. When I joined this time I felt I had arrived at a proper club and now we need to build a strong team.”