More than five months after coach Eli Gutman left the Israel national team following its dejecting Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, the Israel Football Association’s search committee finally held its first meeting on Tuesday.
IFA chairman Ofer Eini, vice chairman Tamir Gilat, Bnei Yehuda chairman Moshe Damayo and former national team players Tzvika Rosen and Haim Revivo assembled at IFA headquarters at National Stadium in Ramat Gan to discuss the matter for the first time, with seemingly one main criteria guiding their thought process.
No, it’s not which coach will afford Israel the best chance of reaching the 2018 World Cup, or at least ending its qualifying group in the best possible position.
It isn’t even who will be the best man to rebuild the side for future campaigns.
At the end of the day, it will be money, or rather the lack of it, which will decide the identity of the next blue-and-white boss.
Many candidates will be considered and several of them will also be called to present their detailed plans for the national team. However, in order to ultimately be chosen as the next Israel coach one needs to first and foremost accept one condition. With the IFA bordering on bankruptcy (which is a story for another column), a sum of up to NIS 800,000 gross a year has been allocated for the salary of the next coach.
That may well sound like a handsome payday, but it is well short of Gutman’s NIS 1.2 million a year, with his predecessor Dror Kashtan making double that and Frenchman Luis Fernandez grossing three times that amount during his time with the blueand- white.
It will essentially require the eventual coach to take a pay-cut in order to guide the national team, with the candidates knowing that their chances will improve by curtailing their financial demands.
Former Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba coach Elisha Levy, who is one of the main candidates for the job, earned in the region of NIS 1.2 million at Beersheba last season, with another of the candidates, Guy Luzon, making several times that amount at his last two jobs at Standard Liege in Belgium and Charlton Athletic in England.
The candidacy of another of the favorites for the job can only really be explained by his willingness to work for a reduced sum. There seems to be little other sense to the fact that Eli Ohana’s name keeps popping up as a viable option when considering his failed Premier League coaching career and his underwhelming achievements with the Israel under-19 national team, which he has coached since 2008.
With no clear standout candidate, the search committee is also considering offering two of the three the option of guiding the national team together.
They will, of course, have to share the salary.
In the meantime, under-17 national coach Alon Hazan will guide the blueand- white in the friendly match against Croatia in Osijek next Wednesday.
The only two factors behind his interim appointment were the fact that he is already on the IFA’s payroll and his schedule is free for him to travel to Croatia next week.
Israel will be playing for the first time since its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign ended in bitter disappointment last October.
Gutman’s four-year tenure as Israel coach officially came to an end one day after the blue-and-white capped its campaign with a 3-1 loss in Belgium to finish Group B in fourth place.
Gutman’s departure was widely expected following the side’s failure to reach the playoffs, with Israel picking up just four of a possible 21 points from its final seven qualifiers.
Eini said at the time that he will not rush to name a new coach, but no one thought he would leave the most important position in his organization vacant for so long.
The national team doesn’t play its first World Cup 2018 qualifier until September 5 when it hosts Italy. Nevertheless, any incoming coach could have significantly benefited from the Croatia friendly in beginning to build his national squad.
Israel’s hopes of reaching the World Cup for the first time since 1970 were already all but dashed after being paired with former world champions Spain and Italy in qualifying Group G. Only the winners of each group will qualify automatically, with the eight best runners-up to advance to home-and-away playoffs.
Israel will also face Albania, Macedonia and Liechtenstein.
The fact the blue-and-white faces an impossible task to reach the next World Cup in Russia is a major consideration in the eventual decision regarding Gutman’s successor.
But while it seems the IFA is using that as an excuse to select a coach by default, it should rather grab this opportunity to set on course a true rebuilding process.
Finally there are no unrealistic expectations weighing down the coach, allowing the next man in charge to overhaul the side and ensure it is ready for Euro 2020 qualification.
The search committee’s first decision should be to hand the next coach a contract for four years so that he will know he has the time required to assemble a team that will be able to end Israel’s major-tournament drought.
However, yet again, the next coach is expected to only be given a two-year contract, putting him under pressure to achieve unlikely success when the priority should be future development.
Both the 58-year-old Levy, who has proven he can accomplish success in varied environments throughout his career, and the 40-year-old Luzon, who has shown that he has the vital communication skills to connect with the current generation of players, are deserving candidates for the job.
However, they are destined for almost certain failure if they won’t be handed the right tools by the IFA.
The early signs are anything but encouraging. Dysfunction still seems to rule the halls of the IFA, leaving Israel’s hopelessly hopeful fans clutching at straws once firstname.lastname@example.org