(photo credit: INIMAGE)
Salah Hasarma will make history on Thursday night, becoming the first Arab coach to guide a top-flight Israeli club under Jewish ownership when Ironi Kiryat Shmona visits Slovan Liberec in the first leg of the Europa League third qualifying round.
Since Rifaat “Jimmy” Turk became the first Arab to play for the Israel national team in 1976, countless Israeli Arabs have followed in his footsteps in wearing the blue-and-white.
Dozens of Arab players currently play in the Premier League in every club apart from Beitar Jerusalem, and in recent years they have grown in prominence, starring for their respective teams.
However, Arab coaches have rarely been given a chance to prove themselves, with even the Arab-owned clubs in Israel’s two professional divisions often overlooking their coaches.
Bnei Sakhnin, by far the most successful Arab club in Israeli soccer, has been part of the Premier League for every season apart from one since 2003/04, but despite going through 10 managers in that period, it failed to give a single Arab coach an opportunity.
Turk didn’t last long as the coach of Hapoel Tayibe when it became the first Arab club to play in the top flight in 1996/97, with the late Azmi Nasser also being given little credit at Maccabi Ahi Nazareth when it was part of the Premier League.
Three years ago, Amar Salman became the first Arab to coach a professional soccer club under Jewish ownership when he guided Hapoel Jerusalem of the National League.
However, Hasarma will be the first Arab to do so at a Premier League club after being promoted from coaching Kiryat Shmona’s youth team.
The 41-year-old Israeli-Arab, who played for Kiryat Shmona from 2006 until his retirement from the pitch two years ago, will be under pressure to achieve immediate success, with the team ending last season in second place behind Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“I was also the first Arab player at Bnei Yehuda and I opened the door for everyone else,” said Hasarma. “I’m happy to also be doing so as a coach. However, all I care about is doing my job properly and ensuring we are a top team.”
Hasarma is stepping into the shoes of Barak Bachar, who was sacked late last season after club owner Izzy Sheratzky claimed that he had gone behind his back and was negotiating with Hapoel Beersheba, which he ultimately joined.
“After two successful years with the youth team I wanted to move up to the senior side,” added Hasarma. “We have made quite a few changes to the squad and it hasn’t been easy.”
Kiryat Shmona is playing in Europe for the third time in four seasons, with its best showing to date coming in 2012/13 when it reached the group stage of the Europa League.
Liberec won the Czech cup last season and is aiming to qualify for the group stage of the Europa League for the second time in three years.
The winner of the tie will advance to the final playoff round.
Mac TA remains upbeat despite significant setback Meanwhile, Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Slavisa Jokanovic believes the yellow-and-blue can overturn the 2-1 deficit against Viktoria Plzen in the Czech Republic next Wednesday and advance to the playoff round of the Champions League.
Maccabi was outplayed by Plzen in the first leg at Bloomfield Stadium on Tuesday, but Barak Itzhaki’s 79th-minute goal gave the three-time defending Israeli champion some hope of mounting an unlikely comeback next week.
“We have players that don’t do enough to follow the plan that was laid out before the match. The players have to work together and we can change what we need to for next week,” said Jokanovic.
“We are at halftime and we will have to find some kind of advantage for the next game.
Fortunately we scored a goal and they didn’t bury their chance for a third goal so we are still in it. We have to be prepared for anything and everything.”