Sinai Says: Disposable nature of Israeli soccer coaches becoming farcical

Israeli Premier League soccer clubs are replacing their coaches at a record pace in recent seasons, often making a mockery of themselves in the process.

By
March 1, 2017 01:41
Guy Luzon Hapoel

Guy Luzon left his coaching job at Hapoel Tel Aviv after less than four months and joined Maccabi Haifa just one month later. (photo credit: ERAN LUF)

 
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Whether you prefer the term coaching carousel or musical chairs, the bottom line remains the same.

Israeli Premier League soccer clubs are replacing their coaches at a record pace in recent seasons, often making a mockery of themselves in the process.

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Nine of the 14 coaches who began the season have already either resigned or been sacked, with some teams already going through two or even three coaches.

The record for coaches not ending the season with the team they began the campaign with was set at 10 just last season, and with three more months of action still to come in 2016/17, it would be a surprise if a new mark isn’t registered by the end of this term.

To understand the level of absurdity, consider this: The last coaching change to date came at Ashdod SC where Roni Aouate was replaced by Ran Ben-Shimon two weeks ago. Ben Shimon was hired by Ashdod just nine days after he was fired by Beitar Jerusalem.

One day after his sacking, Beitar named Sharon Mimer as its new coach. Mimer was sent packing from Kfar Saba exactly two weeks earlier, with Eli Cohen taking his place two days later, a month after he lost his job at Hapoel Haifa.

Another coach who has guided two teams this season is Guy Luzon, who unlike the previous three wasn’t sacked from his first job. Luzon spent less than four months at Hapoel Tel Aviv where he replaced Eli Gutman. He resigned due to the dramatic changes the squad underwent following the club’s bankruptcy and the takeover by a new ownership group. He joined Haifa one month later.



Maccabi Haifa’s case is perhaps the most depressing as it regards a club that has everything needed to succeed – a wealthy and experienced owner, an illustrious past, a loyal fan base and a new stadium.

Nevertheless, it has fallen woefully short of expectations time and again in recent seasons, and its coaches have paid the price every time.

Four different coaches guided the Greens to seven league championships between 2000 and 2011, and when the time came to part ways for whatever reason, all of them left in an orderly manner at the end of the season.

Owner Jacob Shachar prided himself at not sacking coaches mid-season, but that all changed in 2012 when Reuven Atar was fired only three months into the campaign. Arik Benado took his place and was allowed to finish the following season as well. But Serbian Aleksandar Stanojevic lasted only four months, being given his marching orders in December 2014.

Haifa reached a new low this season. Roni Levy was fired in July before the team even began its league campaign, clashing time and again with the club’s new Norwegian sports director Tor-Kristian Karlsen.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s former assistant at Manchester United, Rene Meulensteen, was handed the job, but he was in charge for only six months following another frustrating campaign.

Bad decisions are being continually made at Maccabi Haifa for various objective reasons, but the Greens aren’t by any means dysfunctional like some other clubs in Israeli soccer’s top flight.

Take Ironi Kiryat Shmona for example. With the team holding a comfortable lead over Hapoel Ashkelon in a league match back in November, club owner Izzy Sheratzky announced on live radio that he will fire coach Benny Ben-Zaken as he refused to accept his instructions to start with certain players.

Shertzky was particularly angry that Ben-Zaken didn’t play forward Ahmed Abed in the previous week’s match against Maccabi Tel Aviv, with the owner hoping to sell the player to the yellow- and-blue.

Ben-Zaken only guided Kiryat Shmona for three matches, winning two of them, replacing Moti Ivanir who was sacked following the team’s poor start to the campaign. Tomer Kashtan is the current coach of the side, but he may also not end the season, with Kiryat Shmona picking up only one point from its past five games.

At least Sheratzky isn’t calling the shots from prison.

Ben-Shimon was hired as Ashdod’s new coach in a phone call made from Hermon prison in the north of Israel by club owner Jacky Ben-Zaken.

Ben-Zaken is two months into a 26-month sentence after being convicted of manipulating shares, and despite not holding any official role at the club, he is still the one making all the important decisions.

Another comical episode was provided by Hapoel Kfar Saba owner Stav Shacham. After sacking Mimer, Shacham took to Facebook to confer with fans regarding the identity of the team’s next coach.

“Tomorrow I’m supposed to make the decision regarding our next coach,” he wrote last month. “If you are interested in voicing your opinions, recommendations, ideas – you are welcome to do so here.”

Shacham later insisted that he had no intention of actually making a hiring based on what was written on Facebook. But after the bizarre incident earlier this season when he inquired regarding the purchase of Hapoel Tel Aviv despite already owning Kfar Saba, he seems capable of anything.

One could perhaps even argue that the constant coaching changes are insignificant as the job of head coach isn’t really that important.

After all, sports director Jordi Cruyff guided Maccabi Tel Aviv on an interim basis for over a month following the sacking of Shota Arveladze and the yellow-and-blue registered its best run of results under his stewardship, picking up 16 of a possible 18 points from six matches.

But Cruyff is an exception to the rule. There is probably no one else in Israeli soccer who commands the same respect as he does and he is well acquainted with the ins and outs of the local game, being at Maccabi for over four years.

Cruyff himself will be the first to admit that a team needs a good coach in order to succeed and that the coach needs to be given a proper opportunity to prove his worth.

A coaching shuffle can often result in a change in fortunes. Beitar has looked like a different team since Mimer took charge, winning all four of its matches across all competitions in impressive fashion.

But the fact that there is no way to know what results the team would have registered in those games under Ben-Shimon means the two can’t really be compared.

Mimer is no better a coach now than he was when he was fired by Kfar Saba following a 10-match winless streak. A change in circumstances and a renewed opportunity are what have made the difference, and Mimer is so far grasping the chance with both hands.

Kfar Saba’s fortunes may have well already turned for the better had he been backed by the club. But Shacham, like so many other owners, felt his team needed a change, and of course it was the coach who was made unemployed as a consequence.

Replacing coaches as if it is some good luck charm is a growing trend in Israeli soccer, one which highlights how far the local game still needs to go in order to truly reach professional standards.

allon@jpost.com

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