After tumultuous stretch, Cruyff ready to leave Mac TA boardroom for pitch

It took seven years since his retirement, but Cruyff now finally seems ready to fully embrace the challenge of coaching.

June 14, 2017 05:32
ordi Cruyff is set to step down from the front office to become Maccabi Tel Aviv’s head coach on a f

Jordi Cruyff is set to step down from the front office to become Maccabi Tel Aviv’s head coach on a full-time basis next season, while retaining his responsibilities as sports director. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)


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It is a decision Jordi Cruyff battled with for years. And every time he ended up with the same answer. That is, until now.

Jordi followed in the footsteps of his father, the great Johan Cruyff, by becoming a player, suiting up for Barcelona and Manchester United among others.

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But for so long, he resisted going into coaching the way Johan did upon his retirement.

Jordi always wanted to remain involved in soccer, but instead he chose to do so from the position of sports director.

First in Cyprus at AEK Larnaca for two years before joining Maccabi Tel Aviv in the summer of 2012.

It is safe to say both he and Maccabi owner Mitchell Goldhar never imagined he would still be at the club five years later.

But not only is Cruyff set to continue at Maccabi for another season in 2017/18, he is going to have an even greater impact on the team’s chances of success.

After years of insisting he will not do so, including while spending over a month as an interim coach last season, Cruyff is expected to take charge of the team on a full-time basis in the upcoming campaign.

The exact details have yet to be confirmed, but it seems Cruyff will guide the team in a similar fashion to the way he did last season following the sacking of Shota Arveladze at the start of January.

As well as working as sports director, Cruyff will also be in charge of team selection and guiding the side during matches. He will also be involved in every-day training, but not as much as previous coaches, with Jordi expected to bring in a senior assistant who will be allocated significant responsibilities.

If his record as an interim replacement is any indication, this could prove to be the start of a promising coaching career.

Maccabi closed within five points of Beersheba after picking up 16 of a possible 18 points in six league matches under Cruyff. The team also advanced to the State Cup quarterfinals, holding a 1-0 first-leg lead over Maccabi Petah Tikva before Cruyff turned the keys over to Lito Vidigal.

The Angolan, who only joined the team in mid-February, is technically still the side’s head coach. He is under contract for 2017/18 and nothing to the contrary has been announced.

But despite a pretty decent record on paper, Lito will not be back for another campaign.

Maccabi won its first five games under his guidance before suffering a 1-0 defeat at champion Hapoel Beersheba.

The yellow-and-blue picked up 10 of a possible 12 points in its subsequent four matches, but a 2-1 home loss to Beersheba decided the Premier League title race in favor of the reigning champion with three matches still to play.

Maccabi also went on to reach the State Cup final, but a shock defeat in penalties to Bnei Yehuda meant the club ended a second straight season empty handed.

While the side’s results under Vidigal can be defended, the team’s mediocre displays and the fact he managed to fall out with players during such a short period, while also clashing with Cruyff, sealed his fate.

“I deserve to be Maccabi’s coach next year. Cruyff doesn’t have to give his word that I’ll stay. The owner brought me here and if the owner says I stay, I stay,” Vidigal said after the cup final, surely already knowing that he is unlikely to continue.

Any notion that the title-less 2015/16 was no more than a one season lapse after three straight titles, was unequivocally dashed last season, with Beersheba cementing its status as the new leading force in local soccer.

Cruyff knows that better than almost anyone else and he is determined to lead Maccabi back to the top. If the best chance of that happening is by him coaching the side, he will do so.

Cruyff arrived at Maccabi while it was in the midst of a 10-year Premier League title drought. He helped the yellow- and-blue claim its first championship since 2003 in his first season with the team, the first of three titles in a row.

Despite ending 2015/16 without silverware, that season included plenty of highlights for Maccabi, including a first visit to the Champions League group stage in 11 years.

Last season was undoubtedly the toughest the club has experienced in the Cruyff era, with Maccabi firing a coach mid-season for the first time since 2011 before once more finishing a campaign with nothing to show for its efforts.

The fact the likes of Oscar Garcia, Paulo Sousa and Peter Bosz have gone on to achieve great success elsewhere speaks volumes of Cruyff’s eye for coaching quality and of his ability to recruit names who would otherwise probably not even consider coming to Israel.

But the coaching carousel has inevitably led to unrest in the squad, with Maccabi to begin a season with a different coach for a sixth straight year.

Maccabi already returns to action in two weeks when it gets its continental campaign underway with the first leg of the Europa League first qualifying round. Cruyff’s top priority at the moment is to strengthen the squad.

Omer Atzili and Ofir Davidzada are two of the local names Cruyff is hoping to sign in the coming days, with at least three new foreign players also set to join the yellow-and-blue.

Maccabi opens pre-season training on Wednesday, and while Cruyff’s appointment will not be announced until the club reaches an agreement with Vidigal regarding the compensation he will receive, Jordi will be overseeing happenings at the Kiryat Shalom complex.

Cruyff reportedly turned down an offer to join the technical team at Barcelona in order to continue at Maccabi, as powerful a statement of intent as there could possibly be.

He wants to have real authority, something which Goldhar is willing to give him at Maccabi, and which he could likely never have at a club the size of Barcelona.

It took seven years since his retirement, but Cruyff now finally seems ready to fully embrace the challenge of coaching. His progress will be closely tracked not only by Maccabi fans, but by the soccer community across the world, waiting to see if the son of the legendary Johan can follow in his tracks.

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