Maccabi Tel Aviv Coach Jordi Cruyff..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
When Maccabi Tel Aviv owner Mitch Goldhar and coach Jordi Cruyff announced a little over three weeks ago that the latter would be departing the club at the end of the season they did so with three main goals in mind.
They wanted to show that the decision was made in a harmonious manner, to ensure the news didn’t leak out at the wrong timing, and just as importantly, were hoping it would give the players a boost ahead of the final stretch to the Premier League season.
At the time, Maccabi was coming off a dramatic 2-1 defeat to Hapoel Haifa in its first game of the championship playoffs, but was still only five points back of Hapoel Beersheba in first place with nine matches to play.
“While we approach the end of this chapter it is not over yet. I expect the players and staff to use their most aggressive best efforts and unwavering will to win to see that this season has the most appropriate ending for everyone involved,” said Goldhar with Cruyff sitting by his side.
“The most important message is the season is not over,” added Cruyff. “We are still fighting for the title and we need to put all our focus and energy into this and bring a happy end to my time here and that can’t be better than winning the league.”
While that press conference was held less than a month ago, it seems like a long time ago now. Maccabi has completely fallen out of the title race, losing its next three games, against Maccabi Netanya (4-1), Hapoel Beersheba (1-0) and Beitar Jerusalem (3-2), and four in a row in all, to drop 12 points behind Beersheba in first place.
Tel Aviv is aiming to end its longest losing streak since December 2011, the season before Cruyff joined the club as a sports director, when it hosts Bnei Yehuda on Saturday. The yellow-and-blue’s recent run has not only seen it lose any realistic hope of claiming the championship, but also leaves it in danger of failing to qualify for European competition for the first time in five years. Maccabi sits in fourth place, just three points above Maccabi Netanya, with the team to finish in fifth to miss out on a berth in the Europa League in 2018/19.
“The game on Saturday is a must win for us,” said Cruyff. “In the playoffs it is all about taking the points. You can play better or worse, it doesn’t matter. It is all about the points and we are not doing that.
“Now we are coming to a new phase, which is not fighting for the title but fighting for something that at Maccabi is the minimum.
But we need to fight for it,” added Cruyff, who continues to insist that Maccabi didn’t make a mistake with the timing of the announcement of his departure.
What has become a two-horse race for the title resumes on Sunday, when twotime defending champion Beersheba visits Netanya. Beersheba is coming off a dramatic 2-2 draw with Hapoel Haifa after netting a 94th-minute equalizer to extent its unbeaten streak at Turner Stadium to 51 matches. Netanya registered its fifth win from the past seven matches when it defeated Bnei Yehuda 3-1 last Saturday.
Beitar Jerusalem, which cut the gap on the top to four points with Monday’s win over Tel Aviv, visits Hapoel Haifa on Monday.
The battle against relegation also continues on Saturday.
While nothing is official yet, rock-bottom Hapoel Acre has little hope of surviving and Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Ra’anana likely secured their top-flight status with wins last weekend. That leaves Hapoel Ashkelon and Ashdod SC to fight it out to avoid joining Acre in the National League. Ashkelon, which is four points back of Ashdod and safety, hosts Acre on Saturday, while Ashdod visits Ra’anana on Monday.