Barak Bachar hates to lose.
Whether it be a friendly tennis match or a decisive European game for his Hapoel Beersheba side, the 37-year-old coach is unwilling to accept defeat.
Last Tuesday, Bachar, a former promising junior tennis player, participated in a doubles match as part of the 40-year celebrations of the Israel Tennis Centers complex in Beersheba.
Bachar and former professional Anna Smashnova played a super tiebreak against the CEO of Hapoel Beersheba Asi Rachmim and doubles great Andy Ram. They soon found themselves in a 9-0 deficit, one point from defeat.
The result of the match seemed insignificant to everyone, other than Bachar. A few minutes later, Bachar and Smashnova claimed the victory, winning 11 consecutive points.
“It took me some time to warm up,” said Bachar with a smile. “But I believed we could win even when we were trailing 9-0 and that is my message from this match.”
Two days later, Bachar’s team found itself in what seemed to be a similarly hopeless position.
Trailing Italian giant Inter Milan 2-0 at halftime, the reigning Israeli champion looked to have little chance of avoiding defeat.
Understanding he made a mistake with his tactics, Bachar substituted defender Loai Taha for midfielder Maharan Radi in the 36th minute, an unorthodox move most coaches would have avoided at that stage of the match, in large part as it is an admission of failure.
But ego doesn’t seem to play any part in Bachar’s decisions and Radi’s introduction changed the complexion of the match. Lucio’s 58th-minute header handed Beersheba a lifeline and Anthony Nwakaeme leveled the score from the penalty spot in the 71st minute after Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was sent off for bringing down Maor Buzaglo, setting up a dramatic finish.
Bachar didn’t fret about taking out goal scorer Lucio and replacing him with Ben Sahar in the 75th minute and seemed to be throwing caution to the wind when he substituted midfielder Ovidiu Hoban for another striker, Mohammad Ghadir, nine minutes from time.
The last two substitutes combined for Beersheba’s winner in the 93rd minute. Ghadir’s back-heel left Sahar in a one-on-one situation and the striker made no mistake to secure a memorable win.
Besides making the decisive substitutions, Bachar played an active role in his team’s winner.
The ball fell to Bachar after an Inter clearance and he quickly threw it back to his players, urging them to make the most of the remaining seconds.
Beersheba completed an unprecedented double against Inter after also claiming a 2-0 win at San Siro at the start of the campaign, with the Italians never previously losing twice to the same team in a group stage of a European competition.
To understand the magnitude of Beersheba’s achievement, one can rewind to the previous night’s dinner between club owner Alona Barkat and Inter representatives. The conversation naturally included comparisons between the clubs, with the Italians asking Barkat at one stage regarding her team’s budget.
“Only 30 million euros?” they asked with bemusement before Barkat corrected them, explaining that they had misheard and Beersheba’s budget is in fact 13 million euro. Inter’s budget is estimated at 230 million euros.
While everything Beersheba has achieved, starting with last season’s historic championship, is first and foremost due to the revolution the club has undergone since Barkat took charge in 2007, Bachar is the conductor of the orchestra on the pitch assembled with the owner’s money.
Bachar began his coaching career just five years ago after his playing days were cut short due to injury. He made his initial steps under the stewardship of Ran Ben-Shimon at Ironi Kiryat Shmona, winning the league title as an assistant in his first season in 2011/12.
The following season, he was named as the team’s head coach following the sacking of Gili Landau and guided the team to the State Cup final and a fifth-place finish. Kiryat Shmona won the cup the following year and ended its league campaign in third place. Bachar didn’t get to finish the subsequent season at Kiryat Shmona, with club owner Izzy Sheratzky sacking him late in the season with the team in second position.
Sheratzky claimed that he had gone behind the club’s back and was negotiating with Beersheba.
Bachar ultimately signed with Beersheba and the rest his history.
He guided the team to its first championship in 40 years last season and the prospect of backto- back titles is already looking very likely, with Beersheba holding an eight-point gap at the top of the league standings.
Arguably even more impressive has been Beersheba’s performances in Europe. Beersheba stunned Greek champion Olympiacos in the Champions League third qualifying round and very nearly reached the group stage, beating Scotland’s Celtic 2-0 in the second leg of the playoffs, one goal within overturning the 5-2 defeat in Glasgow.
Despite being drawn into a tough group with Inter, Southampton of the English Premier League and Sparta Prague, Beersheba enters its final match with everything to play for. The win over Inter moved Beersheba tied with Southampton on seven points, and a victory or a draw with goals in England next Thursday will stunningly send the Israeli champion through to the round of 32.
Just as important as his tactical prowess is Bachar’s ability to connect with his players.
Perhaps it is because he is of a similar age to many of them, but regardless of the reason, Bachar has managed to keep every player on his squad focused on the team’s goals rather than their own. With a deep squad of 23 players who all believe they should be in the starting lineup, that is no simple undertaking.
Take Maor Buzaglo, for example. The talented midfielder looked to be on his way out of the club during the summer, being unhappy with his role at the end of last season. Buzaglo was only convinced to remain at the club following a talk with Bachar during pre-season, but after being left out of the second leg against Sheriff Tiraspol in Champions League qualifying his father Yakov announced that his son will be leaving the team.
Bachar contained the crisis and convinced Maor that he still has a place at the club. Buzaglo has arguably been the team’s best player over recent weeks, starting in the last two Europa games and scoring stunning free kicks against Inter, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Kfar Saba earlier this week, Beersheba’s seventh straight league win.
Such is the atmosphere at the club, that even after being substituted in the first half against Inter, defender Taha went as far as complimenting Bachar for his decision on his Facebook page.
Following the win over Inter, an Italian journalist asked Bachar if he would like to coach in Italy one day. Bachar answered that he is still young and has plenty of time, but the fact the question was even asked shows how far he has come.
Bachar has already become accustomed to making history at Beersheba, but this is surely only the beginning for the brightest and most promising coach in Israeli soccer.