Nothing and no one can take anything away from what Jacob Shachar has achieved at Maccabi Haifa. But there comes a time when change is inevitable.
That time is now.
It was Shachar’s ownership of the club that provided the base that allowed the Greens to win seven Premier League championships in the first 11 years of the 21st century and reach the Champions League group stage on two occasions.
However, just as he deserves much of the credit for past successes, Shachar is just as responsible for Haifa falling woefully short of expectations in each of the past four seasons.
With the second biggest budget in the league, a new stadium that is the envy of every other club in the country and a state-of-the-art training complex, there is seemingly no reason Haifa shouldn’t be at least challenging for the championship every season.
However, not only is Haifa set to finish well off the top once more at the end of the current campaign, but yet again it has capitulated in remarkable fashion with the season barely underway.
Haifa has started each of the past four seasons with a different coach. Each has failed. Numerous players have come and gone over the past four seasons. They, too, all failed.
There is, however, one man whose position at the club has barely changed over the past four years, or since 1992 for that matter.
The 74-year-old Shachar has seemingly tried everything. But time and again over recent years his efforts have proven to be in vain.
Shachar has invested blood, sweat and tears, as well as many millions, to turn Haifa into the first model professional club in Israel.
However, after what has unfolded over the past couple of months, and on the back of the experiences of recent years, he needs to take a hard look in the mirror.
It is safe to say that no one wants the team to succeed more than him.
It is also clear that he has done everything in his ability to put the side in a position to return to its glory days. And yet, he is once more left with picking up the pieces from another cataclysmic flop just seven matches into a campaign.
It is not that Haifa can’t succeed with Shachar, but rather that the team would have a much better chance to triumph again should he take a step back and follow the modern model of top clubs across the world.
As long as he had a significant financial advantage over the rest of the league, Shachar could afford to run the club as he pleased, signing players based on recommendations from friends and walking into the dressing room at halftime to give the squad a pep talk.
But while he has remained stuck in the 20th century, Maccabi Tel Aviv – under the ownership of Canadian billionaire Mitch Goldhar – has brought Israeli soccer into the 21st century, taking a stranglehold over the local game.
Shachar introduced new coach Roni Levy as the club’s best signing during the summer, believing that after picking the wrong men for the job in previous seasons, he had finally got it right.
Levy led the Greens to three consecutive titles between 2003 and 2006 and did an impressive job at Maccabi Netanya last season.
But his second tenure with the Greens could have hardly gotten off to a worse start. Haifa’s 2-0 defeat at Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Sunday was its fourth in seven matches this season and left it bottom of the standings with a mere five points from a possible 21. For the sixth time in seven games, Haifa failed to find the back of the net, with the team’s only goals this season coming in its only win, a 2-0 victory over Hapoel Ra’anana.
Haifa’s dismal start to the campaign is perhaps best typified by the fact that its players have received twice as many red cards (four) as they have scored goals.
This is Haifa’s worst start to a season since the beginning of the professional era in Israeli soccer in 1955. But it continues a clear trend that has been established over recent years.
Coach Reuven Atar lasted just nine matches and was sent packing only three months into a three-year contract in 2012 after the team had accumulated a mere seven points from the first nine matches. Arik Benado came in and led the side to a second-place finish, only to guide the Greens to 11 points from their first nine games in 2013/14 on the way to a fifth-place finish.
Serbian Aleksandar Stanojevic was gone after four months last season and his replacement Marco Balbul was not offered a contract extension after Haifa ended the league campaign in fifth place, failing to qualify for Europe for the third time in four seasons.
Levy was supposed to be the man who would guide Haifa back to glory, and he seemed to have the squad to do so, including the likes of current and former Israel internationals Yossi Benayoun, Hen Ezra, Taleb Tawatha, Eyal Meshumar, Orel Dgani, Itay Shechter, Avihai Yadin, Dekel Keinan and Eliran Atar, as well as foreigners with impressive resumes like Nikola Drincic, Marc Valiente, Ludovic Obraniak and Vladimir Stojkovic.
But yet again Haifa has proven that names don’t win matches, with the team playing nowhere near to the sum of its parts.
Levy and the players are, of course, the ones who should shoulder much of the blame for the way the team has played. Atar, Benado and Stanojevic and their respective squads should have also done a lot better.
But if so many coaches and countless more players have failed so miserably in recent seasons, perhaps the man in charge of selecting them should reach the obvious conclusion.
The main reason behind Maccabi Tel Aviv’s three consecutive championships and progress to the Champions League group stage has been the changes brought to the club by Goldhar and his staff, most notably by sporting director Jordi Cruyff.
Goldhar may have the final say, and there is no reason that Shachar shouldn’t as well, but Cruyff is the one who singles out the coaching candidates and highlights the squad’s needs and the players required to address them.
Haifa hasn’t got such a position.
Benayoun is supposed to become the sporting director when he retires, likely at the end of this season. However, his divisive conduct since returning to the club last year raises a big question mark regarding his compatibility for the job, and regardless, Haifa should have established such a role long ago.
“We are marathon runners. After Maccabi Tel Aviv chased us for 10 years now it is our turn to envy them,” said Shachar ahead of the start of the season. “But things change in sports.”
Shachar clearly believes that it is only a matter of time until Haifa regains its place as the dominant force in local soccer. Surely he knows it is not a coincidence his team has embarrassed its fans time and again in the last few years. However, he certainly seems to believe that the methods of the past can still cut it.
He couldn’t be any more wrong. The writing has been on the wall for several years and its message is very clear. For the sake of his beloved club, it is about time Shachar recognizes it.
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