(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Two of the Premier League’s leading teams made a shock change at the coaching position on Thursday while another opted for continuity in a dramatic morning of announcements in Israeli soccer.
The day began with Hapoel Beersheba declaring that it was parting ways with Elisha Levy at the end of the season after three years together.
Soon after, Ironi Kiryat Shmona sacked Barak Bachar with immediate effect, claiming that he had gone behind the club’s back and was negotiating with Beersheba.
Perhaps the biggest winner of the day was defending champion and league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv, announcing it had extended sports director Jordi Cruyff’s contract for two more seasons.
The 35-year-old Bachar, who is considered to be one of Israel’s rising coaches, had guided Kiryat Shmona since Week 6 of the 2012/13 campaign after replacing Gili Landau. He led the team to a fifth place finish and the State Cup final before ending last season in third and guiding the club to its first cup triumph.
With Kiryat Shmona currently in second place, Bachar seemed set to continue at the club for another season, especially after coming to an agreement with owner Izzy Sheratzky three months ago to sign a contract extension at the end of the campaign.
However, everything changed when Beersheba owner Alona Barkat called Sheratzky on Wednesday to check whether he knew Bachar’s agent Dudu Dahan was negotiating with them, news which stunned Sheratzky.
“Sheratzky told Alona that he doesn’t know whether she plans on signing Bachar, but that a coach who agrees on a contract extension and then approaches another team behind his back can no longer work at the club,” a Kiryat Shmona press release read.
Barkat asked Sheratzky to wait with his announcement so that she could first notify Levy that he will not continue at the club, and he agreed to keep it on hold until Thursday.
Bachar will be replaced by assistant Benny Ben-Zaken until the end of the season, with youth team coach and former senior team captain Salah Hasarma to fill Bachar’s shoes next season, becoming the first Israeli-Arab coach to guide a top-flight club under Jewish ownership.
Levy guided Beersheba to second place last season and can lead the club to its first title since 1997 when it faces Maccabi Tel Aviv in the State Cup final on Wednesday.
Maccabi Tel Aviv has yet to reveal the future of coach Pako Ayestaran, but the yellow- and-blue at least ensured there would be stability at sports director.
“It is an honor to be a member of this football club and I am extremely grateful for the trust and support that the owner and the organization has placed in me as we continue to build for the long term,” said Cruyff.
Maccabi can clinch its third straight championship with a win over Kiryat Shmona at Bloomfield Stadium on Sunday.
On Saturday, Hapoel Beersheba visits Maccabi Haifa, while Beitar Jerusalem goes to Maccabi Petah Tikva on Monday.
The battle against relegation will be decided on Saturday, with Hapoel Haifa and Ashdod SC hoping to avoid joining Hapoel Petah Tikva in the National League.
Haifa holds a two-point lead over Ashdod and has its fate in its own hands, with a win over Maccabi Netanya on Saturday to secure its survival. Ashdod will need to beat Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield and for Haifa to either draw or lose in order to avoid relegation.