Marco Balbul was named as the new coach of Maccabi Haifa yesterday, following the sacking of Aleksandar Stanojevic..
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
An outcome that has long seemed inevitable became a reality on Sunday, when Serbian coach Aleksandar Stanojevic left Maccabi Haifa.
Marco Balbul was named as his successor a few hours later, and will hold his first training session with the team on Monday. His first match will be against Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Toto Cup final on Wednesday.
The 47-year-old played for Haifa for almost all of his career, starting in 1986 and ending with his retirement in 2002.
Balbul began his coaching career as an assistant in Haifa before going on to guide Hapoel Beersheba, Bnei Sakhnin, Maccabi Petah Tikva and Sakhnin once more last season. Balbul recorded his greatest success with Sakhnin in 2013/14, guiding the team to a sixthplace finish. However, he will be facing a challenge of a completely different magnitude at Haifa.
The Greens were considered by most experts to be Maccabi Tel Aviv’s main challenger for the Premier League title at the start of the season.
With the yellow-and-blue dominating the league over the past couple of years, club owner Jacob Shachar significantly increased the budget ahead of 2014/15.
He brought in an expensive foreign coach in Stanojevic and lured back from Europe arguably Israel’s greatest ever player, Yossi Benayoun.
The return of Benayoun was part of a squad overhaul which saw seven new senior players arrive and almost double that amount leave.
The fans were clearly optimistic, purchasing over 17,000 season tickets ahead of the club’s entry to the state-of-the-art Sammy Ofer Stadium, smashing the previous local record.
However, after opening the season with a win over Bnei Sakhnin, it quickly became apparent that not only was Haifa unable to compete for the title under Stanojevic, but that it struggles even against the league’s weaker sides.
Despite losing 3-1 to Beitar Jerusalem on Saturday, Haifa is currently in fourth place. However, it finds itself 12 points behind Hapoel Beersheba in third, and a mere five points above Hapoel Petah Tikva and the relegation zone.
After refusing to accept Stanojevic’s resignation in at least two previous occasions, Shachar didn’t try to convince him to stay when they spoke late Saturday night.
“This isn’t an easy moment,” Shachar told the players on Sunday. “You are also responsible for the team’s situation.”
Stanojevic took full responsibility, saying that he felt this was the right step for the club.
“I’m sorry I reached this point,” he said. “I promised the fans at the start of the season that we would challenge for titles and I’m responsible for our current position.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv climbed up to first place for the first time since the second week of the season, and for at least 24 hours on Sunday, beating Hapoel Ra’anana 2-0 in Netanya.
Eden Ben-Basat scored the opener in the 10th minute, with defender Carlos Garcia securing all three points four minutes from the final whistle.
After 17 consecutive league matches, Eran Zahavi’s remarkable scoring streak ended on Sunday. The midfielder had netted 25 goals over that stretch, 16 of them this season.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona can return to first place should it beat Hapoel Tel Aviv in Netanya on Monday.