There is little doubt that Israeli soccer is in dire need of help.
A quick glance at the national team’s accomplishments over recent decades – or, more precisely, the lack thereof – are all one needs to understand that the problems plaguing the local game are truly deep rooted.
The list of those who set out to improve the situation with big plans and even bigger dreams is almost never ending, including Israel Football Association chairmen past and present and senior and junior national team coaches.
All have failed.
Not because their ideas or intentions were unsound, but rather because of the underlying inability to translate theory into practice in local soccer, or Israeli sports as a whole for that matter.
Whether it be due to lack of funds, poor management or basic inadequacy of those involved, implementing plans (rather than simply coming up with them) is one of the root causes preventing Israeli sport from making much-needed progress.
It should come as little surprise, therefore, that the Culture and Sport Ministry is set to pay in the region of 200,000 euros for four months of work to former Spanish international Fernando Hierro to come up with even more ideas to promote the local game.
Hierro is expected to be named as an adviser to the Culture and Sport Ministry and Israel Football Association’s joint committee set up last year with the goal of advancing the sport in the country, yet another pointless venture which has everything to do with PR and the political game, and very little with making actual change.
Hierro will be paid to visit the country several times in order to identify local soccer’s problems before coming up with a plan to correct them and then keeping track of the progress being made from afar.
The 47-year-old is bound to have some great ideas. With over 500 appearances for Real Madrid and 89 caps for the Spain national team, including participation in four World Cups, Hierro clearly has the requisite playing experience.
Even more relevant is the knowledge he acquired during his time as the director of sport at the Royal Spanish Football Federation between 2007 and 2011, before going on to work as the director of football at Malaga in 2012 and as an assistant coach at Real Madrid last season.
His resumé is impeccable. But regardless of the plan he devises for a better future for Israeli soccer, his appointment will be a waste of taxpayers’ money with no funds being set aside to implement his ideas.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev will undoubtedly hold a press conference to congratulate herself on her fine idea of bringing in a foreign expert while Israel Football Association chairman Ofer Eini will laud his role in the hiring.
But with the IFA literally bankrupt after years of financial mismanagement and the Culture and Sport Ministry vulnerable to the whims of its ever-changing ministers, the chances of a long-term plan actually being realized are all but impossible.
The Director General of the Culture and Sport Ministry, Yossi Sharabi, and former Israel international Haim Revivo, met with Hierro in Spain last week to discuss his appointment, with the Spaniard reportedly telling the two that he “sees Israeli soccer as a very big challenge” and that he is “very passionate to instill the Spanish model in Israel and is interested and even excited to get to work.”
Sharabi hailed Hierro, saying he is the “father of the Spanish model.”
While Hierro did indeed play a part in the success of the Spanish national teams during his time with the local association, he is hardly the one responsible for revolutionizing soccer in his country.
He rather continued the excellent work started by his predecessors, a privilege he will not enjoy in Israel.
Hierro’s ultimate recommendations to the joint committee are set to include the appointment of a Spanish technical director to the IFA, as well as Spanish coaches to the national youth teams, while instilling an identical playing system for all the teams.
He is also set to suggest the opening of excellence centers across the country and the setting up of a scouting network to locate Israel’s top talents. All good ideas, albeit somewhat obvious.
The real problem, however, lay in the implementation, which is set to be especially difficult with Hierro being a hiring of the Ministry rather than the IFA.
Even with his appointment yet to be made official, there are already those who have sounded their objection.
“Anyone who comes from Europe necessarily knows more than us?” asked Beitar Jerusalem legend and current Israel under-19 coach Eli Ohana.
“From afar things might look simple, but it isn’t just enough to say what needs to be done. You have to do it in practice. This is a praiseworthy move because it might mark the start of something new.
“However, if anyone thinks that Hierro will come to Israel for a couple of days a week for a few months, make suggestions, and everything will improve, he is naive.
Even if they bring the biggest expert, it will all go to waste if there isn’t proper infrastructure, resources and funds.”
Ohana is of course correct in his assessment, which is clear to anyone with the slightest knowledge regarding Israeli soccer.
Nevertheless, that won’t stop Regev or Eini from making a populist move that will create many headlines and afford them plenty of exposure, but is unlikely to help Israeli soccer in the short or long run.
Hierro, Ohana and the average Israeli soccer fan all know that a long term grassroots program, which will include significant improvement in coaching and facilities, is the only way to bring about a major change in the fortunes of the local game.
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